Monday, September 24, 2012

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry: Slightly Political Edition

There's just so much going on in politics at the moment that it seems appropriate to post a poem that veers on the political, or as close to it as I'm comfortable with in poetry. I rag on free verse sometimes, but I adore this poem by Adrienne Rich. It has no recognizable form per se, but its logic is understandable and the shape the poem takes (somewhat fragmented, with some bursts of white space) feels absolutely right. The last stanza floors me every time I read it.

The story of how I found this poem is somewhat interesting. I had rented a Zipcar and upon returning it, I was checking the various compartments to make sure I wasn't leaving anything behind. In the glove compartment, I found a copy of Rich's The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004. I kept it (is that stealing? or finders keepers?) and this was the first poem in it I read. 


That the meek word like the righteous word can bully
that an Israeli soldier interviewed years
after the first intifada could mourn on camera
what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse
that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl
on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made
is merely routine    word that would cancel deed
That human equals innocent and guilty
That we grasp for innocence whether or no
is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones
That the power to hurl words is a weapon
That the body can be a weapon
any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word
                                                              in a game
you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river
(never a pronoun, never God or War)
is taken for granted    That word and body
are all we have to lay on the line
That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared
by time's dirty rains, we might argue
likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding

But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face
That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer
That the sound of glass crunching comes at the height of the                          
That I can look through glass
into my neighbor's house
but not my neighbor's life
That glass is sometimes broken to save lives
That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot
is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how
                                you live it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My girly factor

I've done a fair amount of soul-searching on this blog, contemplating big questions like "am I a snob?" and why I thought I'd be married by now. But last week, as I sat in a vibrating massage chair watching Sex and the City and sipping prosecco while someone painted my toenails, I was struck by how behaving so girly felt unnatural to me. As Carrie Bradshaw would say in voice-over: "I got to thinking: how girly is too girly?"

I think it depends on the girl. Or woman, rather. I have recently started thinking of myself as a grown-up woman. Which brings me to an interesting point re: nomenclature. When I have asked men my age if they self-identify as "men," usually they tell me they prefer to think of themselves as "guys." "Man" seems too somber, too cowboy. Girls, unless they want to associate themselves with 1940s gun molls ("gals"), don't really have an in-between label like that. You're a girl until magically poof! you're a woman. (Except for a brief, confusing period of time articulated best by Britney Spears when you are "not a girl, not yet a woman" - thanks, Brit!).

In terms of my own gender and how it manifests itself in performative behavior (did I mention I taught a class called "Gender: Myths and Truths" at Emerson?), I have never considered myself that girly by traditional markers. I wear little make-up and often forget to wear jewelry (though I do like receiving it, future boyfriends!). I have always had more male friends than female and better roommate experiences with men, I mean, guys. I own very little pink. So when my last boyfriend told me I was the girliest girl he'd ever dated, I wondered if he had been dating, uh, mannish types. And it turns out, yes, many of his exes are androgynous in appearance and are now in relationships with women. So in comparison, I was a delicate lady flower.

I do own one very "girly" thing -- my phone, the HTC Rhyme. When this phone was introduced, it got a lot of press due to the fact that it was ostensibly marketed to women (despite HTC's claims to the contrary). It's slim and purple and came with a bunch of silly purple accessories (like a light-up charm to help you find it quickly in your giant Kate Spade tote).

Why did I buy the Rhyme? Because I'm a poet and I couldn't resist a phone called "rhyme." And also, I like purple (though not as much as Marie on Breaking Bad). In hindsight, I probably should have read some product reviews and bought a better Android, or just sucked it up and gotten an iPhone. The Rhyme did not sell well and HTC is not making any software updates for it. And my tech blogger friends tell me I'm the only person they have ever met that actually bought one. I do love to be unique!

The bottom line: I love being female and take great pride in my femininity - I just don't typically wear it on my sleeve. And sometimes I wish I felt more camaraderie with my sex. Like when I'm invited to bachelorette parties and baby showers and feel a little awkward and out of place. There's just something so parodic about certain female rituals. While harmless, they reduce being a woman to its worst stereotypes and celebrate the most normative of female roles (wife and mother). Don't get me wrong, I someday hope to be a wife and addition to being a poet and teacher. But I want all those labels on the same level of importance; why do I only get thrown a party with tiaras and penis balloons once I decide to get married?

Oh, and FYI hypothetical future bridesmaids in my wedding: No penis paraphernalia at my bachelorette, please. Let's just go somewhere with a good wine list and shoot the shit.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Crying at the gym

I know you've probably heard numerous people say they hate the gym, but I really think I hate it more than anyone else. For instance, have you ever heard of someone sobbing uncontrollably while working out? Well, now you have.

Let me back up.

Every time I move to a new city, I face the decision of whether or not to join a gym.  I belonged to Crunch (R.I.P.) my first two years in New York, and actually faithfully went a few times a week, then New York Sports Club (which I think I literally went to twice in two years). In Boston, I did yoga at a studio in my neighborhood and, in my final months, joined GymIt, a bare-bones $20/month no-commitment gym.

Here in Chicago, my roommate is a member at Fitness Formula Club and there's a location literally across the street from where we live. I hemmed and hawed and toured the place and finally decided to join. My biggest issue so far is that everyone I see at this gym is already perfectly in shape. I'm the only one who looks like I need to be there. And the classes have been all over the place -- I went to a step aerobics class that was kind of advanced (I couldn't keep up with the choreo so I just gave up and just started doing my own thing) and then a yoga class that was annoyingly remedial.

The sobbing came about during my one free session with a personal trainer, a chipper, well-meaning 5'3" man named Juan who speaks so quickly and with such a heavy accent that I only catch about 1/3 of what he says to me. Juan did an assessment of my strength prior to our session, in which it was determined that I basically have none.

I was dreading our actual session and I didn't really understand why until after I broke down crying in between sets of squats and these horrible things called "plank scissors." You see, the gym reminds me of all the humiliation I felt growing up due to being the most unathletic person on the planet.

You think I'm exaggerating, but seriously, I'm the worst. I'm not strong. I don't have good hand-eye coordination or balance. I've never been fast and once my boobs came in, it was clear I never would be. I'm flexible, hence my ability to do yoga, but that's my only physical gift. And from age to 6 to 18, I was reminded on a daily basis in gym class how inept I was. And when you're a kid, being good at sports = being good at life. Everyone sees how good/bad you are in gym. I may have been getting good grades, but I wasn't able to really brag about that. And every time I was introduced to a new sport, I felt this desperate glimmer of hope: maybe this will be the one I'm good at. So what that I couldn't play tennis, maybe soccer would be my sport. Ok, soccer's not my thing, but maybe I'll surprise everyone and be an amazing basketball player in spite of my petite stature. Or hey, maybe my stocky legs and broad shoulders will make me a total animal on the swim team.

But just like in a Richard Yates story, I experienced soul-crushing disappointment when I failed. The inner monologue of "I suck" returned with a vengeance. And what I have realized is that all those feelings come back, PTSD-style, when I'm at the gym. Just walking into the facility makes my heart race and my palms sweat. All my successes in life recede and I'm back in 4th grade, picked last for kickball AGAIN. All I can think about is how ridiculous I must look, flailing around on whatever equipment I happen to be on. How hopeless I am and what a waste of time it is for me to work out, when who I am kidding, I'm never going to be toned and firm. Italian women are soft and curvy, so I'm fighting an uphill battle against my genes.

Juan didn't really do anything wrong. He just happened to be there when I was at my most vulnerable and he was pushing me, which is his job. But something snapped and the next thing I knew, I was blubbering about being out of shape and having a shitty metabolism and apologizing for how much I sucked at all the exercises he was teaching me. I was BAWLING. On the floor. At the gym. Juan felt so bad he offered me a bunch of free sessions. I politely declined.

I will keep going, but one-on-one with a trainer is too much pressure. I prefer the anonymity of group classes or machines where I can watch TLC shows like "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss" and "Teen Moms" and feel a little less bad about myself.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Things are happening

I finally feel settled enough in my new home in Chicago to report on what my life is like here. After a slow and slightly lonely start (thank God for the Olympics, which made staying in every night watching TV seem like an acceptable thing to do), things are finally happening. Good, exciting things. Such as:

1) I got into a choir

In Chicago, a lot of choral groups hold their auditions in spring, as opposed to late summer, so many of the groups I was interested in had already accepted their new members for the upcoming season. It was looking like I'd only be able to share my vocal stylings with my fellow drunk patrons in karaoke bars. But I auditioned for The Apollo Chorus this week, and despite my inability to sightread bass clef (which led me to accidentally curse in the audition -- oops), I have been invited to join their Alto 1 section. With 110 members, Apollo will be the biggest choir I have ever been a part of. It's also the oldest choral organization in the country. They have performed Handel's Messiah every December since 1879. That's a lot of Halleluias.

And speaking of halleluia-- 

2) I am employed

As of the day I left Boston, I had nothing locked down job-wise. The interview I had in July for a lecturer position at Roosevelt University didn't result in an offer....but they did like me enough to offer me adjunct work. I am teaching two sections of English 101 (Intro to Composition) and so far, I'm really enjoying it. Roosevelt's rhet & comp program is just similar enough to Emerson's that I feel like I know what I'm doing, but just different enough to feel new and fresh. And the students are cool -- there are less scowling hipsters, to be sure, but so far, they seem ready to work and learn (with the exception of the girl who, when I asked her after class why she refused to participate in a group activity, said she "just wasn't feeling it").

3) The Big Quiz Thing is coming to Chicago, with me as the host/quizmistress

After side-kicking/Vanna White-ing in Boston with Quizmaster Noah for two years, I have earned my hosting wings and will be helping launch the Chicago edition. Starting Oct. 4, I will be hosting the best live game show spectacular on either side of the Mississippi on the first Thursday of every month. The venue: Uncommon Ground in Edgewater. More details soon....but if you're in the Chicago area or have friends there, please encourage them to check it out. I REALLY want to be a D-list Chicago celebrity by the end of the year.  

I am repurposing a silly Funkin' A! picture for promotional purposes:

             I look kind of like a game show host, right?

For the full event details, visit the Facebook event page!

4) The Food Committee is finally under one roof

My best friend Jon is the co-founder of the Food Committee, a very, very exclusive organization dedicated to eating only really excellent food in excellent company. And now, we're roommates (as well as Elite Yelpers) and can take our culinary adventures to the next level. I am convinced that Chicago is the best restaurant city in the country (yes, even better than NYC) and I vow that no meal shall be wasted.

5) I have located my CSO

CSO = coffee shop office. I am notoriously bad at getting any work done at home, so finding a place nearby with wifi and decent coffee is essential. I was about to give up on my neighborhood when I stumbled upon Eva's Cafe. It's kind of on a sketchy, weird block, but it's adorable and has good, cheap food and reliable wireless. This is where I will be pretty much every day I'm not teaching. It's where I am now, in fact.

6) I went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field (and obviously, they lost)

Baseball is the only sport I even remotely care about, and I love rooting for underdog teams. The Cubs are, therefore, totally deserving of my support. Except when they play the Cardinals, of course. Then all bets are off.

7) The cats are getting along

Actually, this is a lie. They are better than they were a month ago, but there's still a lot of hissing (Maude), growling (Maude), and food-stealing (Meaty). But occasionally they occupy the same room and ignore each other peacefully. So that's something. 

8) I'm kinda sorta maybe possibly perhaps dating someone. And that's all I have to say about that.  
That's all the news that's fit to print at the moment. Happy Friday and God bless you and these United States of America. (Yeah, I have been watching too many convention speeches).