Snail Sisters & My Camino Family: El Camino, Part II

What I expected: A seven-day solo hike in which I spent the majority of time inside of my head and stopped along the way to sit and write.

What I expected: A community of nice people who would see one another and talk during dinner at the albergues (hostels). Since El Camino de Santiago is historically a religious pilgrimage, I imagined much discussion of Catholicism, with me, the Unitarian, as outsider, only listening.

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What I actually experienced:

It all started after I paid .70 euros to enter the women’s bathroom at Charles de Gaulle airport. I used the bathroom and groomed myself after the overnight flight to France. A woman with long red and pink braids and a diamond nose stud approached as I was finishing up. “Are you walking the Camino?”

“Yes.”

“Would you mind watching my backpack?”

She soon helped me exchange my computer printout for a train ticket, and we talked on the platform. It was her fourth time doing the trek. Seats were assigned, so we talked again on the next platform. She was from Canada, but she and husband had recently moved to the Dominican Republic. Somewhere along the line, we remembered to exchange names – hers was Pamela. Later, she bought me a beer while she waited for the third train and I, a bus. Then, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the medieval town from which our pilgrimage was to begin, she saw me looking at map and sign. “Where’s your albergue?” She yelled across the street.

“Across from the pilgrim’s office.”

“Come with me.”

Pamela dropped me off at my destination, and we knew we’d see each other at Orisson, our albergue halfway up the Pyrenees, the next day.

I entered Beilari just in time for dinner. Our warm, wonderful host, Joseph, had us introduce ourselves and tell the reason for our sojourn; then, we toasted with wine. Joseph referred to us as a “Camino family,” and that set the tone perfectly for the trip to follow.

In Orisson, the “why?” was also asked. Between those nights and subsequent conversations, I learned that while some folks were on a religious pilgrimage, reasons varied: healing from loss was a biggy– loss of in-laws, having been a primary caregiver; loss of a husband to cancer, having become a young widow; loss of first love to breakup; loss due to a bout with cancer. But there were others reasons, too: parent/child bonding – there was even a three-generation family, grandma, mom, and two boys; weight loss; challenge; and perhaps a more general sense of need to move beyond what a person had known and been, to see the world through new eyes. One boy introduced himself and said, “I am nine, and it’s my first camino.” That got laughs. Another child said that he was in it “for the food.”

I bought Pamela a beer the next afternoon at Orisson, and we sat exchanging life stories for about two hours, before having dinner, where we sat with Marianne and Michelle, a mother/daughter duo from Denmark.

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Pamela with Michelle and Marianne (at the Paella Plaza Party)

From day one forth, each proved different. The first day’s trek was the steepest and perhaps hardest with our backpacks. We left a medieval town of Basque architecture and cobblestone streets and wended our way upward through green fields and hills.

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2018-07-01 11.04.30 Day 1: Trek Halfway Up Pyrenees, France

It was hot, it was hard, and we rejoiced that we made it! We awoke to mist below us, tucked in nooks and crannies of lower peaks, sunrise a glimmer above. Day two was gentler but longer. There were memorial cairns, stone storm shelters for shepherds, a shepherd with three dogs, sheep and a sheep bell, cows and a cowbell, horses roaming free, crossing the road. We leap frogged one another alone, in pairs, and small groups. We reached the magnificent peak and took photos individually and together. We entered Spain. That night, we slept at a monastery, where we received a pilgrim’s blessing in Spanish. We rejoiced – we had made it over the Pyrenees!

At 3 AM entering day two, I decided to set intentions for each day. For day two, I was going to let go of the people who had mistreated me and remember how well I’ve been loved and how blessed I am. As I climbed to the peak, I let go of past bullies and mental abuse. On the way down, I stopped, with no one around, and conversed aloud with the universe, thanking it item by item for all of the love and blessings. That moment stands out for me the most. I could cry, just thinking about how fortunate I felt.

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Sophie from Sweden, Jenifer from Canada, Me, and Stefan from Germany, at Pyrenees’ Peak

Days three to seven were filled with forests, lavender fields, sunflowers, vineyards, olive trees, and two smaller mountain ranges. They were filled with additional intentions pondered. They were filled with delights, such as a vino fountain filled daily by monks and a boy who sells lemonade and has his own pilgrim’s stamp.

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But here’s the thing: instead of finding myself withdrawing into myself, I met and came to appreciate my Camino Family. We started a What’s App thread and kept each other abreast of plans, shared progress, and provided useful tips. My best night with them was in Pamplona. Pamela and I decided we should have a pinchos y cerveza café crawl. It was akin to being a carefree teen again, meeting people at different venues and en route, sharing and laughing together. Only this was an international community of individuals from Germany, France, Denmark, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and other countries, all ages, all walks of life. We hugged each other in greeting and good-bye as if we’d known one another since childhood.

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Pamela and I walked together from the latter half of day two until I reached my destination, Los Arcos. Through a sweet woman, Marie from France, who said we were “like the animals who wore houses on their backs,” we became the “snail sisters.” We’re about the same height, which meant our legs were shorter than most other hikers. But we always arrived at our day’s destination! We’d lock step without trying and walk in sync for hours. About the same age, we shared our life stories and learned there were many parallels. Conversations ran deep in still waters.

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And we laughed. And laughed. We sat on boulders and greeted people as they passed: “Bonjour!” “Buenos dias!” “Buongiorno!” We luxuriated on the roadside, lying back upon packs, asking hikers, “Cookie?” as they passed, offering our Spanish lime sandwich treats. One Asian couple, who we leap frogged with daily, always smiling when we did, were among those who stopped for cookies and a chat.

The night before our Los Arcos, Spain, arrival, and my 50th birthday, Pamela announced on our text thread that the next night there would be a “paella plaza party.” That morning, a birthday text from Marianne and Michelle came, filled with Danish flags, and when we saw them at breakfast, the duo handed me a present, a Camino shell bracelet, which I’ll enjoy always. As Pamela and I walked through woods, we suddenly heard from behind, “Happy Birthday to you…” Sophie from Sweden and a married couple from the United States hiked quickly up to me singing, hugged me, and went on their long-legged way. It was the nicest birthday “attack” I’ve ever received!

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At our albergue later, a woman I’d never seen before asked if it was my birthday. The news had traveled up and down the Camino. I said yes, and she wished me a happy birthday in French and did that warm European two-cheek kiss thing. It was lovely, as was the paella plaza party that night, with my Camino family. A warm Japanese man, who was 69 and walked at a good clip, took our photos and had us write down our names, as if to make them indelible in memory. And then I said good-bye.

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The universe gives you what you need. I thought that I needed reflection and writing time, and I had some, but it gave me more – in a world gone mad and more specifically, in a country, the USA, that I understand less each day, it restored me via beautiful people and much joy.

I walked 92 miles in one week. I’ve heard tell that the first leg of the Camino breaks you down physically, the second, mentally, and the final leg puts you back together both physically and mentally again. I did the first leg, and it was a physical challenge: I had knee swelling, heat rash, and cankles (swollen ankles) all for the first time. But I did it! I would love to return to finish the trek, from Los Arcos to Santiago, and then on to the west coast, to Finesterra, if time, health, and money permit. (And Pamela and I have also discussed walking the Portuguese Camino together.) I’ve kept track of my Camino Family by text thread and smiled and mentally cheered and cheered as they’ve reached Santiago, many in groups formed along the road. But in case the stars don’t align, don’t allow for such further adventure, I have the memory of this trek to embrace for the “second half” of my life. Just writing about it, I am awash in peace.

#elcaminodesantiago #Camino2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Solo Woman Journey: El Camino, Part I

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About fifteen years ago, my bestie, Jackie, gave me The Camino by Shirley MacLaine for Christmas (after pre-reading my gift and writing a note in one passage! Besties can get away with that). I read most of it but MacLaine got a little too “out there” for my tastes, and I put it down. Still, El Camino de Santiago stayed in the back of my mind. Reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, in more recent years, served to rekindle my enthusiasm.

I like to challenge myself in new ways. There should be no plateau in life. I’ve read articles on centenarians about whom were reported such things as, “Arthur started playing video games when he was 98.” What isn’t talked about much beforehand is that in the late 40’s and early 50’s, increasingly, unfortunately, individuals start becoming seriously ill and some die. Juvenile diseases and poor lifestyle choices catch up with the body; cancer sets up shop and vies for a monopoly. I am blessed enough to be healthy so far (knock on wood), but I “put no trust in the ‘morrow.” I wanted (dare I say “needed”?) to have this one thing to call my own before facing the challenges that the next decades hold with family, professionally, and personally.

Globally, solo woman travel is on the rise. While on El Camino (the French Way), a man from Germany commented on how many women were on the trek and that a number of us were traveling alone. One book I read had cited that 47 percent of pilgrims on El Camino were female, but that was from 2014, and we all agreed that the percentage had likely risen. Our Camino group was definitely female dominant. Even so, some people commented to my husband, Mike, beforehand, that they were surprised he was “letting me” go alone. He didn’t dignify those remarks with responses. If Mike felt he were “letting me” do anything, he wouldn’t be my husband. (Second husband, I might add.) Instead, he was 100 percent supportive. I did trip planning, prep, and training on my own. It took about a year of reading; purchasing backpack, hiking shoes, tickets, etc.; and training (toward the end). (A HUGE thank you to the family and friends who loaned and/or gave me money, books, supplies — e.g. blister kit — and trained with me, namely: Michael Poore, Bill and Wanda Lukens, Jackie Larson, Lynne Benson, Barbara Shoemaker, and Debbie Murphy.)

Away I went on June 29th!

For a long while, I’d imagined letting go of haunts on the trail, the largest of which involved physical and sexual abuse. Two years ago, I thought that I would be making a humongous professional decision while hiking — whether or not to stay in my academic position. As it turned out, I’d already done a great deal of the abuse processing, and I made the decision to leave my job last August and did so in December 2017. That said, I envisioned trekking alone and withdrawing into an intense inner journey. I craved that time unplugged so that I could live in the silence surrounding my mind and hear myself think for a change. I could actually see myself plopping down on a rock to write memoir insights. I also prepared for potential hip pain and bad blisters.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is to embrace the organic experience.

My pilgrimage proved nothing like what I’ve described above.

Tune in next blog post for a lowdown on the Snail Sisters and much, much more!

 

 

 

When Did Your Childhood End?

Last fall, a former creative writing student wrote about when her childhood ended, which prompted me to ask, “When did my childhood end?” My first thought was as it had always been – when I was 16, the day that my dad died. I’d stepped up and attempted (emphasis on attempted) to take over his responsibilities to help my mom at that point.

But when I reflected further, I lost my childhood two years prior, right after I’d turned 14. I was working for a former teacher on Saturdays. My dad was a dying alcoholic, and we weren’t getting along (understatement). I had started to think of this teacher as a “replacement father.” I would arrive at the school before his students did to make certain that the building was secure; there had been break-ins – gram scales stolen from the lab for measuring cocaine. I’d also helped with set up for a day of learning.

He started holding my hand as we walked through the halls together. That was okay. My dad had held my hand for years when we’d walked places. Then, out of nowhere, he proposed teaching me photography in the milk room, which was essentially a large closet. I said sure; I was always up for a new learning experience, and I so wanted to please him. It was nice to have someone’s approval because goodness knows that I no longer had my dad’s.

The second Saturday that we were in the milk room, I was crying hard because my father and I had had a terrible Friday night. I no longer recall which incident.

The teacher and I were developing photos from negatives of his wife, who was sitting on a park bench, holding an infant – one their six children. It was then that he French kissed me, slipped his hand beneath my lavender jersey to cop a feel, and started sticking his hand down the front of my jeans. It was my first real kiss. (I hate “write about your first kiss” prompts to this day. They make me shudder.)

Here I was weeping because I was losing the father I had loved (at one time, “Daddy’s Little Girl”) to alcohol and cancer, and his surrogate was making sexual advances. Finally, this fact kicked in, and I stopped the progression of his hand just as it reached under my bikini panty line. “I love you,” he whispered. “We can go as slow as you’d like.”

Students arrived shortly thereafter, and I left the school early, using the excuse that I had to babysit. I walked home through two towns, sun reflecting on snow that had fallen on the roof of a yellow house. Each step sounded crisp. Tears wet my cold cheeks. I had never felt so alone or betrayed.

I didn’t tell my parents, and the two people I did tell, I swore to secrecy.

I would later learn that he’d been doing this to female students for at least 16 years.

Occasionally his wife, also a teacher, but at a different school, graded in the teacher’s lounge. Whenever I had passed the room and said hello to her, she’d reciprocated stiffly, despite that I was always polite and cheery to her. I was puzzled by her coldness until I eventually put two and two together: she knew what he was doing all along and had allowed it to continue. She’d considered me the problem, the enemy.

When I was a high school sophomore, I went to him during school hours. He was on his free period, and I asked to speak to him privately. He took me into the storage room for chemicals, beakers, and Bunsen burners. There, I threatened to tell on him. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Who do you think they’d believe – you or me?”

It was 1983. I was a lower-middle class, 15-year-old daughter of a dying alcoholic. He was a well-established, highly respected, and popular teacher. They’d have believed him.

I’m thankful that today, if a high school girl made a complaint about the sexual conduct of a teacher, it would very likely be investigated.

I felt such shame that I was sexually molested (a word that wouldn’t enter my vocabulary for several more years), that my self-esteem, not good at that time, plummeted. Depression. Anorexia. My grades dropped.

I’ve had significantly worse experiences happen to me since then. Are the incidents related? Somehow, I think that what happened in that dark room was the first link in a chain for me, and at the same time, a manacle attached to women extending back to pre-recorded history.

I will turn 50 next month.

My path diverged the day I lost my childhood, and those lips and hands, that touch, never left.

#metoo

 

If Our Dog Were a Car…

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Last October, Mike, Jianna, and I adopted a dog from the Humane Society, a six-and-a-half year old female mutt, “Big Ang.” We modified her name to Angie and sometimes add to it. She’s from Georgia, and I call her Angie Belle half of the time.

If Angie were a car, she would be a used car, sold “as is.” If she were still in the lot, prospective buyers would shake their heads, wondering What was the designer thinking?!? She is built like an overstuffed sausage on stick legs. And I think that she needs a re-alignment. I swear that when I take her for a walk and she is ahead of me, her chassis is crooked. (By the way, have you ever taken your dog for a long walk and watched him or her lift a leg to pee, marking territory, and wondered, How can that dog have any urine left inside? What – does the dog have an internal camel’s hump for storing pee just for walks?!?)

We think that Angie may have been abused by a former owner. When she’s on the couch with me and I move my leg ever-so-slightly, she almost always bolts. At first, when Mike raised his hand to pet her, she shied away, as though afraid he’d hit her. And Mike is the Dog Whisperer — dogs love him!

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While I can’t and never will understand abusing an animal, I can empathize with this theoretical previous owner’s frustration. It’s as though the dog has no listening skills or long-term memory. For a short time, at first, I even wondered if she might have a hearing problem but if so, it’s selective, because she’s a foodie and doesn’t miss a single sound coming from the kitchen – ever! And if she gets to lick a plate, it’s so clean that when she’s done, we could put it right back in the cabinet (don’t worry — we don’t!). She’s slow to learn lessons, though, such as not to pee in the house. Sigh…

That said, Angie has huge, soulful brown eyes that look at us imploringly with one message only: “Love me.” Over the past six months, she has slowly come to the conclusion that she is home, and we are hers, and we’re glad that she understands.

She’s a sweetie. If you give Angie an inch, she’ll take as much space as she needs to be as close to you as dogly possible and touch you with her paw as if to say, “It’s my time now. Love me.” (Paw again.) “Hey? Love me.” (Paw again.) “Looooooooove me! I llllllllllllllllllllllloooooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeee you!” Just as often, she’s content lying beside you, part of her touching a part of you.”

I’ve been taking her for walks lately, now that the weather is finally warming up, and a neighbor I’d never met, an older man, yelled across the street, “Is that one of those attack Rottweilers I’ve been hearing about?”

“Um, no,” I replied, “just a scared mutt!”

I texted Mike about the comment, and he texted back, “Attack dog? What’s she going to do, CUDDLE someone to death?!?”

She’s our clunker, but she’s no lemon, and we’re keeping her!

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A National Poetry Month Interview

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Earlier this month, I was contacted for an interview. To further celebrate National Poetry Month, I am publishing it here.

By: Adriana Celeste Garcia

Adriana Celeste Garcia, a Purdue University Northwest student, is a Business Management major. She currently resides in Hammond, Indiana, where she wants to keep close ties after graduation so she can give back to her community. Adriana is the second youngest child of six and loves to spend time with her family whenever she finds the time.

 

  1. What first drew you to poetry? Was it a difficult time in your life, were you searching for an outlet, or have you always possessed a deep passion for it? 

“Always” may be an exaggeration, but I do remember writing my first poem in first grade, and the booklet that the class put together. (I still have it. My contribution was very Dr. Seuss-like in composition.)

In 4th grade, I was placed in a gifted literature program, and for the next three years, my teacher, Mrs. Zuiker, sent a boy, Tracy Lund, and I around to other teachers’ classrooms to read our poetry to students as well as our poems to the local newspaper for publication. It was then that I began building an identity as a poet, which heightened my self-esteem.

While in grade school, I immensely enjoyed the lyricality of language and word play. During difficult family and relationship times in high school, though, I began turning to the creative form out of need. It was, in fact, my “go to” genre whenever I felt depressed, confused, or hurt because in writing poetry, a writer may, as renowned poet Gwendolyn Brooks states, “distill life to its essence.” It also seems to have the most intimate link to emotions for many writers, myself included – I’ve even been known to say that I don’t like to grade poetry because it sometimes feels as though I am assessing writers’ souls.

  1. How has poetry changed your life if at all? Do you seek after poetry as a pastime, is it a stress reliever, or something else? 

Poetry has changed my life tremendously. On the most personal level, writing poetry has allowed me to process and examine my own thoughts and feelings, which has proven cathartic. It has also allowed me to develop and give voice on a range of subjects from narrative to political, which has been empowering. It has also given me a conduit to influence how readers and listeners perceive the world around them.

Reading and listening to poetry has, for one thing, made me feel less alone. Even though poems often discuss specific personal experiences, within them are universal themes, from yearning to connect, to the pain, confusion, anger, and helplessness of disconnection. In January 2017, I took my daughter, Jianna, to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s March, and I could think of no better way to end the day than to attend a Split This Rock poetry reading. It was so good to listen to protest poetry – poetry that serves as an agent of social change. It was comforting and gave me hope, knowing that in a world seemingly gone mad, that others shared my concerns, and to be reminded of the vast power of words.

  1. Do you feel as though you are happier when you read and or write poetry? Does it allows you to channel or address your feelings more efficiently?

I’m not sure if “happier” is the exact descriptor that I would use. Reading poetry leads to considerable reflection, which, in turn, influences my own way of viewing the world and my writing. In addition, it motivates me to write. Writing is like breathing for most writers; I can’t not do it. If I go too long without writing, I feel like I’m enclosed in a confining space and am suffocating. I feel flat, numb, overwhelmed. Writing poetry serves as a relief valve, but more than that, it helps me to sift thoughts and emotion that waft in my periphery into refined articulation. So, yes, in short, writing poetry is an efficient way for me to process.

  1. Have you learned anything about yourself through poetry that might have otherwise been untapped? For example, do you feel it allows you to be more creative? 

Renowned poet Haki Madhubuti was an angry young black man in the 1960’s when he met Gwendolyn Brooks. She taught him to use words to convey his anger in a meaningful way. While I cannot imagine being a person of color during the Civil Rights Movement or possibly compare my life to Madhubuti’s, I will say that if I had not discovered poetry as a means to constructively think, feel, release, and give voice, I would likely be an angrier person and a less discovered self. Poetry helped me to ponder my personal history and belief system and to be able to move beyond myself.

  1. Where is a good place for someone to start incorporating poetry into their lives? How can we develop an appreciation for poetry like yourself? What do you think can be gained from it?

Poetry can be incorporated into a life any time from birth forward, beginning with the lyricality of language taught through nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss books, and children’s poets, such as Shel Silverstein. Hip Hop Speaks to Children is also an excellent resource. Today, anyone with Internet access can watch both traditional and spoken word poets of all ages read their work. A high school senior, slam poet Moises Pulido, recently shared that Button Poetry (which can be located on youtube) turned him on to the art form. Looking up poets on such sites as Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the American Academy of Poets, and the Poetry Foundation may be helpful in determining whose work a reader may want to obtain from a library or bookstore to read. Checking out Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominees and poet laureates of all levels may be useful as well. Sites such as Good Reads contain recommendations, too. Attending a local poetry open mic or slam competition or enrolling in a school or community-related poetry workshop are excellent ways to become even more actively involved. Joining a writing group will help an emerging poet to progress with craft and give the artist a sense of community and access to learning about additional poetry-related opportunities.

There are myths about poetry that serve as “turn offs”; it’s time to move past them. First, poetry isn’t all written in King’s English by white men who have been dead for 100+ years. Secondly, it is not all about nature. Third, the majority of contemporary poetry is not inaccessible or “highfalutin.” No decoder ring is necessary to read it; no degree is necessary to write or perform it. To develop an appreciation for poetry, all that someone has to do is plunge in and explore and be receptive to the experience.

Studies have shown many mental and emotional advantages of reading and writing poetry, ranging from fostered critical and creative thinking, and verbal and written articulation skills, to empowerment, self-awareness, empathy, release, and healing. The benefits of poetry are immeasurable for the human spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

If I’m Going Over the Hill…

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it’s going to be the Pyrenees, damn it!

I’m turning 50 this July. According to my husband, writer Michael Poore, comedian Louis C.K. once stated that when you turn 50, “you’re a candidate” (for death). I had one friend hide under the covers all day on her 50th birthday. Another’s husband forbid his family from even mentioning his birthday that year.

And it’s scary. Scarier than I anticipated. Last month, for the first time since publishing this blog, I did not crank out a monthly post. My dear friend of 33 years, Paul, died on January 28th after a brief, unexpected illness, at age 50, and I was mourning his loss so deeply that I didn’t have the mental/emotional energy to write it. I now consider it a moment of silence on his behalf.

I had really anticipated that Paul and I would still be talking and laughing together in our “twilight years.” (For you youngin’s, 50 is “middle age,” believe it or not.) His premature demise set up an unwanted comparison in my head. To use the vernacular, “shit’s getting real.” The closer that I get to this milestone number, in fact, the more mixed my feelings become.

Thirty bothered me because I had set goals for myself that I hadn’t achieved, and I was disappointed in myself. Forty, the number that is supposed to be upsetting, in contrast, didn’t faze me. Overall, I’ve loved my 40’s — it has been my best and happiest decade so far, personally and professionally. Now, though, and especially since Paul’s passing, I am zooming in the lens on my life.

I had decided a few years ago that I want to walk a stretch of El Camino de Santiago from France into Spain (the “French Way,” as the route is dubbed) for my big birthday. As the plan developed, I thought that I’d make a career decision on the road — whether to stay in academia full time or leave to write. Well, I made that decision early — last fall, instead. I’ve begun my second career and am loving it!

I also knew that I would be saying good-bye to my first 50 years and hello to the “second” 50. For me, that means traversing the Pyrenees, touring Pamplona during San Fermin, and then crossing a bridge,  entering Los Arcos, Spain, on my birthday. Road, bridge, arches — heavy-handed symbolism, I know, but hey, I mean business here! I will journal for my memoir project along the way. And as I do, I plan to shed remnants of haunting past dysfunction, toxic people, boundary issues, and regrets that you’re not supposed to have.

Almost every year at the AWP conference, my friend and writing peer, poet Parneshia Jones, and I see one another at the Bookfair and catch up; for the past two years, she’s told me to go “Do you!” And more and more as the years have progressed, I have learned to “do me.”

But now, I want to “do me,” casting aside remaining societal expectations placed upon me that don’t work for me as much as humanly possible. “A free spirit never grows old,” after all. Along my sojourn, I want to breathe deeply and appreciate the blessing that is my own mental, emotional, and physical health. And I want to steel myself up for what is ahead, which includes accepting and best adapting to the sense of loss that is involved in aging and making overdue, long-term changes in terms of self-care level (diet, exercise, rest, and stress reduction) that will help to maximize my health in the years to come.

It also means readying to throw myself into work needed to achieve family goals of moving to a larger house and paying for our daughter’s college education, which will begin in five ever-so-short years. More importantly, it means being mindful of and cherishing those five remaining years of her adolescence, living under the same roof as Mike and I.

Moreover, it means remembering to use my power as an intelligent, capable, seasoned woman to help future generations. I worry so much about the world that is being handed to the Millennials, iGeneration, and Gen. Alpha that it makes me want to cry. I want to make certain that I have the presence of mind to use my time to mentor, write, otherwise protest, and behave in ways that will be the most beneficial.

When my mom was old and my dad already long dead, she said more than once that people speak highly of the “golden years” but that sometimes “they aren’t so golden.” I want to walk El Camino into 50, embracing the ecstatic experience, while I am able-bodied, and later, know that I didn’t miss the chance to seize making the memory.

 

 

“Lead with Love!”: Women’s March Chicago 2018 – March to the Polls

 

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I had forgotten how good it feels to be with a group of individuals who remind me of the good in this world, that all is not lost, that we are strong and capable, and shall not accept a United States that is unequal, unjust, and uncaring toward the people it serves domestically or globally.

Tahera Ahmad, Associate Chaplain and Director of Interfaith Engagement, Northwestern University, launched the speeches by explaining eloquently in English the meaning of a Muslim chant about “people connecting” and then sang it for us. I closed my eyes, let myself feel the sun on my face, and lived in the melodic moment.

Twenty-six speakers came to the mic in the hour-and-a-half long rally. Main take aways were as follows:

  • We need more women and people of color to run for and be elected into political office!
  • In 2018, it is imperative that in the March primaries and November elections, we VOTE!
  • We must impeach the POTUS!
  • We must protect our DREAMers and secure a roadway to citizenship (and not at the expense of other immigrant populations)!
  • We must protect our LGBTQ+ population from discrimination and work to advance rights, with a special emphasis on transgender women! (Channyn Lynne Parker, Transgender Activist, channeled Sojourner Truth at the beginning of her speech: “Ain’t I a woman?”)
  • We must protect women’s reproductive rights!
  • The feminist movement is not a trend — it is a life-long commitment!
  • The words of Audre Lorde were invoked twice during the rally, including: “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
  • One early speaker stated a phrase that stayed with me: “White silence is violence.”
  • Another presenter reminded us to “Lead with love!”

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With my activist bestie, Jackie Larson, again!  Pussy hats by Jennifer Stockton.

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The Hamilton cast sang “Let It Be”

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View from one bridge as we exited Grant Park to Michigan Avenue to march.

We were a sea of signs flowing from Grant Park to Federal Plaza, onlookers applauding.  Like last year, shouts of “What does democracy look like?!?” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho!” drummed the air.  When el-trains passed over the street, we shook our posters and made noise, ever-so-much strong, purposeful, dedicated noise.

Thanks to He-Who-Is-Not-My-President’s most recent violently inappropriate and revealing remarks, many posters contained a pile of shit wearing an orange comb over.  Perhaps my favorite protest sign, however, was carried by a wee protester who was firmly planted upon her father’s shoulders.  The tiniest protest sign that I’ve ever seen had an LGBTQ+ rainbow background and stated simply:  “Donald Trump is a bad man and we want him to be good.” While I have considerable doubts about that outcome, she was a glimpse of hope for the future!

Let’s be a Resistance Hurricane in 2018!

 

Save the Dates! Highland Poetry Scene – 2018

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Highland Poet Laureateships are one-year volunteer positions, and my term will end, fittingly, at the conclusion of National Poetry Month (April) next year.

Plans (so far!) are as follows:

Painting Poetics at the Promise You Art House (Working Title)

Monday, February 19th, 6:30 – 8 PM

Promise You Art House

In this workshop, poets (all levels are invited) will be introduced to ekphrastic poetry, a form in which poets interact with works of art. We will roam Highland’s new Promise You Art House gallery, seeking inspiration, and then write and workshop our drafts as a supportive writing community. This event will likely require advance registration.

 

Sacred Space: A Women Writers Workshop

Saturday, March 3rd, 10 AM – 1 PM

Highland Public Library

 sacred – adjective | sa-cred | \ ˈsā-krəd \

5b.  highly valued and important (Merriam-Webster)

Please dress comfortably, grab your journal and favorite pen (or computer) and join us for a writing workshop that will include poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction prompt response writing and discussion in a relaxed and supportive community environment.

The event is in honor of Women’s History Month; however, individuals of all genders are welcome. The workshop is free to attend, but a donation of one store-bought item (cannot be homemade!) for the lunchtime potluck would be greatly appreciated!

 

Sip 2 Open Mic & Slam (Working Title)

Friday, April 6th, 7 – 10 PM

Sip Coffeehouse and Artisanal Café

Come sip smooth syllables as spoken word artists offer up cups of steaming hot and iced poetry.  Evening will include both an open mic and a slam competition.  Open mic is free; a small fee will be charged for the slam.  Entrance fee will serve as prize money; winner takes all!

All events are free to attend and open to the public.

 

During National Poetry Month, a large Indiana Poet-themed display, a poetry collection common read (title TBA — stay tuned!) and related discussion event, and more will be available at the Highland Public Library!

Every day in April, the Highland Poet Laureate Facebook page will feature poetry-themed posts, including a special focus on Indiana poets and information about local poetry happenings.

I hope to pull a few other ideas out of my black beret before all is said and done.  As always, I am open to suggestions and collaboration; please email me at highlandpoetlaureate@gmail.com  Send an email, too, if you would like to be added to the e-blast list.

May your 2018 be filled with excellent health, much happiness, and whizz-bang words!

Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation… (and Others!)

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Last week for class, my college freshmen, who have one foot planted in Generation Y (Millennial) and the other in Z (iGen), read about their generations as well as overviews of the Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Alpha (the newest humans off nature’s mold). The readings, videos, and ensuing discussion proved just as interesting for me as it did for them.

I’m a Gen Xer. Gen X has evidently gone from being thought of as slackers to the “middle child” between two larger generations, Boomers and Millennials (“Generations: Past, Present, and Future,” youtube), and according to Alex Williams of The New York Times, “a relatively small, jaded generation….former latchkey kids, who…have tried to give their children the safe, secure childhood that they never had…” I can see this. We were raised in the wake of the Vietnam war, Civil Rights and Women’s movements, and assassinations. We felt vaguely as though we had missed something; at the same time, we had considerable time and freedom but not much direction to focus our passion and energy. This spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e for many of us during early adulthood. The world changed as mothers increasingly entered the workforce, we learned about AIDS, “date rape” became a term, and we lived through Columbine and later, 9/11, mass shootings and global terrorism becoming a stitch, forming a seam, in our cultural fabric. It only makes sense that our anxiety would be manifested in wanting to protect our progeny.  (I wouldn’t argue against the backlash toward “helicopter parenting,” though – children need to gain a sense of independence and confidence in their ability to make decisions on their own as they grow older.)

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But who are these kids, today’s 18 and 19 year olds? They appear to be more Z than Y. They were in diapers or not yet born when 9/11 occurred. It’s as much a part of history to them as MLK Jr’s assassination and the moon landing are to me. On one hand, they grew up with a black president and LGBT identification and rights increasing. They also grew up with the most diversity of any generation; it is even said that they only notice diversity when it is lacking. (My 12-year-old daughter is half-white/non-Hispanic, half-white/Hispanic, with many friends who are half one race or ethnicity, half another. We consciously assess and discuss diversity ratios when away from home.) They are also the most global in their mindsets and have more in common with kids their age in other countries than older people in their own (“8 Keys Differences between Gen Z and Millennials” by George Beall). On the other hand, sadly, they were raised with mass shootings, global terrorism, and climate change as a part of their world. Unlike older Millennials, who are reported to have had their innocence taken away by 9/11 and the Great Recession, Generation Z was born with “eyes open” (Williams). And we all hear about how tech savvy they are, having been born as social media natives, most of whom don’t recall a time before the existence of the smart phone. (“Addicted” and “dependent” have also been used in relation to iGen technology habits.) We know that these global changes and this early connection to the world has allowed the majority of the generation to grow up fast psychosocially. It could also be argued that we privilege the use of nonfiction, of current events, in the classroom more so than previously and live in higher pressure world caused by effects of the Great Recession and expectations of excellent grades as well as earlier exposure to college admission decisions (beginning as early as elementary school) and internship opportunities (now available to high schoolers) – and even the concept of branding!  According to Dan Gould, a New York advertising firm trend consultant, Gen Z is aware of privacy in relation to personal brand, unlike Gen Y, who, upon entering the social media frontier, posted “too openly” (Williams). It is important that we consider these factors in relation to our thinking and treatment of Gen Z.

It has been pointed out that the iGen is growing up slower than previous generations. According to Jeanne Twenge of CNN, “This generation of teens…is delaying the responsibilities and pleasures of adulthood.” They drive, drink, and have sex later. I think of how quinceañeras, sweet sixteen parties, and bar mitzvahs have become less connected to the idea of “coming of age” as women and men. We have less children now, generally speaking, and pay more attention to their individual development (Twenge). My grandma Ruby was one of something like eleven or thirteen children; she was married at age fifteen and had her fourth and final child at age 24; long gone are those days (thank goodness!). I cannot help but wonder if part of the delay serves as a pressure valve. Aren’t we, after all, putting tremendous pressure on these youth? In “Introducing Generation Z,” it was suggested that they may take social issues for granted.  However, I disagree – they’re growing up in the Trump era, with social issues in everyone’s face to an extent unknown and with the country politically divided unlike any time other than likely the 1960’s.  They’re growing up with dystopia leaving fiction and looming over their heads in the form of predicted consequences of climate severely affecting or possibly ending their adult lives prematurely. It’s as though we’ve been grooming Gen Z to solve the problems of the world – “Here, we and the generations before us have made a real mess.  Sorry!  But we’re raising you so that you’ll be smart and capable enough to fix the problems we’ve stuck you with!  Good luck!” According to Twenge, younger adults are “taking longer to settle into careers, marry and have children.” She continues that “iGen evinces a stronger work ethics than millennials…” While she also states that because of their slower pace to adulthood, they will likely need more help with the transition, it seems that we’re raising a generation that is more aware and responsible than those previous. So, what does that mean for older Millennials, Xers, Boomers, and older folks?

Innovation consultant Lucie Green states that Gen Z is “conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future” (Williams). I intend to devote the remainder of my life, in part, to helping iGen on their way.  As the step-mom as a younger Millennial and the mom of an iGen about to enter her teens, I want the generation to find a healthy balance between the digital world and “real” world, so that they have all of the advantages of technology without missing out on the opportunities and beauty afforded by life outside of it. I also want to do as much as possibly to lessen the issues that they are inheriting. In addition, I worry that Gen Z is going to have a collective nervous breakdown by age 30. In unprecedented numbers (and I’ve been teaching college for longer than they’ve been walking upon the earth) my students, especially females, report being on medication to fight depression and more frequently, anxiety. It is alarming. I want to help our future adults to balance the positive with the negative, to learn coping skills, and to use writing as a means to dive beneath the chaos and static to have an opportunity to reflect and make meaning for themselves. I always thought that the “slacker” label was slapped on Xers too soon; I was named a slacker before I even had my first full-time position as a college graduate. Gens Y and Z have been called everything from “self-involved” and “less focused” to “boring” and “less prepared.” In his TED Talk, “What Do We Know About the Generation After Millennials,” Jason Dorsey encourages viewers to, instead of fixating upon generational differences, generation gaps, see what each generation brings to the table and play to all of our strengths. Generations Y and perhaps even more so, Z, have learned from being raised in a more progressive environment, from adversity and early exposure, and from parenting that focused more on individual development. I hope that we will all work to lessen the load of these young people, guide them as needed, and invite them to pull a chair up to the generational roundtable and stay, bringing their passion, ideas, energy, dreams, good work ethic, and willingness to act with them.

If we do, who knows what future will be possible for and with Generation Alpha!

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

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“Hello, everyone! My name is Janine, and I’m a workaholic.”

(You say:  “Hello, Janine!”)

In August, I decided to step down from my full-time faculty position and have cut back to part-time teaching for fall; after this semester, I will be done. There were numerous reasons involved in the choice. For one, I have had the hectic schedule of an eighteen-year-old for over double that amount of time – “work/life balance” has never been an area at which I have excelled. My almost-teen daughter is going to be closing the hatch door on the silver CRV, after loading her last item, perhaps a plastic laundry basket, and heading off to the dorm, after I blink one more time. Family nutrition, fitness, and mental health, particularly the reduction of my own anxiety, are also factors. In addition, I have been teaching college for about 25 years, which is longer than my Gen Y/Z cusp undergrads have walked on upon this Earth. Higher education isn’t what it used to be either – the business approach, disregard of faculty, minimization of the importance of the liberal arts and subsequent falling numbers in English; I’d like to be able to fight the good fight from the outside, rather than fear firing from my non-tenure track position.  Moreover, despite its spread and advances in craft in recent decades and invaluable contributions to English departments, creative writing still remains the ugly red-headed step-child at some institutions (especially according to old, elitist members whose time to step down from teaching was over a decade ago, not that I have anyone in particular in mind, mind you). At any rate, it is time for new challenges, and there is a reason that we so often hear, “Life is short.”

While I look forward to the combination of roles ahead, primarily as a freelance writer but also as a teaching artist and an online college English instructor of creative and freelance writing and literature, I’ll admit that I’m a bit nervous about the transition.  I have, in fact, identified potential pitfalls to avoid as I enter my second career, which are as follows:

  1. I have been go, go, go for the longest time! What happens when it comes to an almost screeching halt by comparison? I will have time to think and feel, too much of which, for me, historically, has been a bit dangerous. From talking to other women, I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this issue.
  2. What if I let my world become smaller?
  3. What if I get fat from lack of exercise?
  4. What if I really am a college professor at heart, and I don’t find writing as my primary responsibility as meaningful?
  5. What if the instability, competitiveness, and stress of freelancing prove more than I have bargained for – what if I can’t make ends meet and steadily learn to excel in the field?

What if…what if…what if? If everyone listened to the “what if’s” inside of their heads, though, no one would ever risk? Right?!?  Besides, since I have identified potential pitfalls, I should be able to work hard to avoid them. (Excuse me while I go sign up for zumba…)

What I know is that I am experiencing a sense of peace that I have not felt for years – you know, the exhale — and I am looking forward to a healthier way of living my life and sharing it with my immediate and extended family and friends.

I have been fortunate enough to have had many literary arts experiences and gained enough knowledge in recent years that I have developed the strong sense of self-confidence that would have been invaluable to me when I was in my twenties and earlier thirties, but “better late than never,” as they say. I believe that I can do this!  But if I fail, and I have failed before, then I will get up, shake off the paperclips and sticky notes, put Band-Aids on my paper cuts, and figure out what is next.

No matter the outcome, beginning next January, I will finally have time to apply lessons that I’ve taught, to explore commercial and literary freelancing in meaningful ways, to make discoveries and meet new people, and to do sit-ups and leg lifts!

“And with that, I’ll pass.”

(This is the part where you say, “Thanks, Janine!”)

See you next meeting!