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Leaving

Outside the sun raged

And power lines hissed

A warning to the hills below

That were set ablaze

Like a blade of grass

Fragile and solitary, but gold

We moved in silence

And somehow the city appeased

Frozen in place

Like the victims at the bottom of Pompeii

Turned statues for us, for me

In choreographed stillness

With the palms above

Holding their breath

They were on your side

As you both watched and waited

To see where I’d go

Behind the wheel of a car

Packed with white noise

Fragments from here

Random art from there

Arranged neatly to form an impartial whole

I planned in silence

You stood and watched

And almost asked who I was talking to

As I stared at my phone

Your car full, whole but messy

Things you loved

From people you loved

You hoped in silence

An empty house with open doors

The wind blowing through

Overturning not a single speck of dust

Illuminated by the sun to the north

The views at their best

Rows and rows of bungalows,

Sizzling pavement, hills and smoke

No one out but us 

In a city of millions

Everything packed but the toothpaste you needed

In the same clothes

I had been wearing for three days

You pointed out, standing in the hallway

And I left and drove east,

Past Ontario and the Cajon Conjunction

My phone not ringing until Apple Valley

It wasn’t you

But I’d blame you

Your rage

And absorption

And not listening

But I didn’t look perfect

And you noticed

And the game became

To leave before the other did

Categories
Poems

Your Last Help Wanted Ad

Where are the elder millennials, aged 34-38?

Those who won Just Say No essay contests

Who downloaded on Napster and watched the internet grow from a place to buy music and send AOL messages to a marketplace for ideas and groceries

Who came of age with the age of information

Who went to school free of worry about mass shootings, pandemics, and government shutdowns

Who could listen in quiet classrooms and learn

Who learned how to identify bias, discern source reliability, run boolean searches, and cite experts Who developed strong arguments and defended them with conviction. Who learned the value of science and experts

Who first logged into Facebook when you had to have a college email address to get in- how elitist!

Who’s adolescence coincided with the development of the world’s most powerful tool

Who are great researchers, writers, and thinkers

Who also watched 9/11 coverage on a TV wheeled into their homerooms

Who listened to older siblings and cousins tell them to go to college and just major in anything and get a good job

Who graduated college during a recession

And who waited

Who decided that getting married, buying a home, and having a family may be too big of a financial and personal risk

Who lost friends to an opiate crisis

Who felt lost and like an obsolete generation without any useful skills

Who still went to work

Who learned how to navigate corporate structures that they didn’t believe in and bureaucratic hoops without reasons

Who chipped away at their student loan debt and still do

And who, without families and mortgages that seem to be “thee purpose,” have wondered what it’s all for?

The generation to come after the “head” and before the “heart” and who hold both within them

To come after generations who laugh at our idealism and before generations so overburdened by anxiety, apathy, and distrust that come with witnessing the exposure of every kind of corruption

Who are at an age where their heads and hearts still rage strong.

Who’s work ethic and idealism define them as a generational subset. Who are hopeful enough to still value humanity and intelligent enough to figure out a “how”

Who took the hard hits and avoided risk and now are privileged with great freeness of mind, spirit, and time

Who are being summoned to lead the way in a spiritual revolution

A “cusp” generation that rides oppositions with both controlled anxiety and hope. Oppositions like conformity and resistance, practicality and risk, isolation and connectedness, individualism and community. 

Who continue to ride into the sunset of the American Dream, led by embers in their hearts and uncertainty in their minds

Who have great power in their unique skills that were forgotten in a fast-forward blur into the digital age

That was sidelined by a tech-savvier younger generation and a “bottom-line” older one

Never before have our great skills been of greater need. In the age of information, our awesome teachers told us to question everything and we did, including ourselves

We’ve known what’s right since first dialing up

But voiceless and doubtful, we swallowed our knowledge

And believed we were lazy, unmotivated, and apathetic

But ascetics no longer work for the big man and the company he keeps 

The help wanted ads we missed after college are screening before us, in blue and red banners

It goes: plague, famine, war  

But they have never seen a generation of true spirit

And this is spiritual warfare

Who ask but how?

It is as simple as how we started- by just saying no

No to everything we never believed in but passively went along with just to survive- the same systems and ways of living and thinking that we are watching collapse

No to long hours with no “real” work that needs to be done

No to dividing time into “quarters” 

No to conflating worth with productivity or with anything at all

No to stress-induced auto-immune disorders

No to a lifestyle where pills are the only pleasure

No to comebacks like “this is how it is” and “that’ll never happen”

Now is the the time to say no 

There is no generation that is better at bending

But we’ve bent too many times and have been the willow for far too long 

So when this thing washes clean,

We won’t go back to the infrastructure that crumble before us, but will say no

This is your last help wanted ad

We are the writers now.

Categories
Essays

It Started With Magic Johnson: Contagion and Fear in the Time of Corona

My germophobia can be traced back to a very specific time in both health and news history: when Magic Johnson announced that he was retiring from the NBA after testing positive for HIV.

It was November 7, 1991. I was 6 years-old and kneeling a foot away from the TV, with bulging eyes and a “boy’s” haircut that I insisted on having. By some miracle from the gods of precocious children worldwide, I had already seen the 1989 film, The Ryan White Story, that chronicles a 13 year-old Indiana boys’ contraction of HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion. I never before had been so captivated by anything on TV. 

The 32 year-old Magic Johnson announced his retirement and diagnosis while my brother danced in front of me, obscuring my view of the TV. So offended by this brief interruption, I instinctively punched my brother right in the balls. This was the first time that I’d be filled with violent rage by any threat, minor or major, to my access of information.

And so began the handwashing. Every day after school, I’d run to the downstairs bathroom where no one could hear or see me and obsessively wash my hands, sometimes 30 times. Later coverage of Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and watching the movie Outbreak would further fill my sponge-brain with images of AIDS monkeys and the fear of touch. I was convinced that a boy in my 1st grade class who resembled Ryan White and always had a runny nose was HIV positive. So when the teacher made a new seating chart and I had to sit behind the suspected contagion and grade his papers and workbooks, my frizzy head nearly exploded. A straight-A student who was terrified of disappointing any adult, I always immediately did my homework when I returned home from school. One night, my mom noticed another student’s workbook that was hidden in the bottom of my book bag. She brought my classmate’s workbook into my room and laid it down on top of my bedsheets where I was neatly tucked in and asked if I was supposed to do anything with it. All of the blood rushed to my semi-functioning head. I successfully played it cool because I was still twenty years away from accepting the fact that I was a full-blown basket case.    

Twenty years later, I was volunteering at a homeless shelter that had a bed-bug outbreak and living with someone with Type I Diabetes. Terrified that I would bring home an illness that his compromised immune system couldn’t handle, I religiously followed my anti-contagion routine:

  1. Cover car seats with garbage bags. Change daily.
  2. Leave winter jacket in car as to not infect.
  3. De-robe in the garage immediately upon arriving home.
  4. Shower immediately, washing body, hair, and coochie with antibacterial soap.   

And then came my own HPV diagnosis, at a time when I had no idea what it was besides how a nurse explained it as an “STD that can cause cervical cancer and/or genital warts.” Rest assured, I monitored it daily with a hand mirror for any signs of “and/or” symptoms.

Nine years later, I’m teaching at a large public high school and the world goes missing as a new virus becomes a pandemic. One of my favorite students “fake coughs” on me and I momentarily forget that I am an adult in a public setting and that I am not supposed to raise my hand to other people’s children. This is my own personal worst nightmare: a viral contagion that shuts down earth. 

Some things have changed since 1991. I’ve stopped scrubbing my hands and genitals with antibacterial soap. I’ve accepted that I cannot control everything and everyone. I no longer consider myself a germaphobe, and such neuroses don’t seem to align with my “dirtiness” that dominates my personality. I’d bathe in mud; I go weeks without washing my hair; a “whore’s bath” is my preferred cleansing mechanism; I abhor antibacterial anything; I’ll stay at a $25 dollar airbnb; and I’ve eaten food out of the trash, but only because my OCD shifted to compulsive overeating.   

But the greatest change that I have undergone in the past few years is no longer being scared to die. I say that as a healthy 35 year-old who has recovered from mild to moderate illnesses; I may not feel so ready to die if I was diagnosed with terminal cancer tomorrow.

I embrace my readiness to go with great pride and a sense of triumph because of how I arrived here and how far I’ve come. I’m half Italian; my dad immigrated here in 1958 and is very Italian. I don’t look very Italian, but I do some pretty stereotypical Italian things like shout, talk with my hands, eat a lot, talk too much, rage a little too often, and live in fear. I used to anyway. A;anis Morisette’s “Perfect” was my anthem. With self-inflicted perfectionism, I demanded straight As, varsity sports, popularity, and a perfect body of myself. And of course, I snapped at around 29 years-old after graduating summa cum laude in 3.5 years, going on to grad school, then to obtain a teacher’s license, and then beginning a PhD. I snapped in an epic destruct-all-of-your-relationships-and-anything-good-you-have-going kind of way. 

For the past 6 years, my life has been pretty messy: a few careers, a few relationships, and a few places lived. From an outsider’s perspective, I must look like the girl who’s crown has fallen. However, I often wonder about the self part of this self-destruction. I used to think that my self-destructive habits could be a fear of failure or the impulsive side of compulsive and perfectionist living. I’m not sure. Last year, I found myself driving across the country three times, without money, insurance, or a spare tire. I put myself in some pretty sketchy situations, like walking alone at night in rural Rape, Utah- population 8. After a volatile relationship, I wondered if this was PTSD- if I was seeking the bodily rush of episodes of fighting.

I’m not tapped into my subconscious well enough to know if this destruction is at will or not. I do know that the scary situations that I never wanted have brought me an empowering fearlessness. I never felt alive spending so much time working and aiming for perfection and control. 

In 1991, I was afraid of contracting and suffering from a virus myself. I was afraid of getting sick and dying young like Ryan White. In 2020, I am terrified of passing it along- of being a walking contagion. I’d love to get on my worn-in high horse and believe that this is because I care about others more than myself, and, in a way, I do, but I’m not sure that my concern for others’ health which now overshadows my own doesn’t lack its own superiority, self-interest, and fear. My fear of being a walking contagion may be an avoidance of feeling guilt or responsibility for getting someone else sick.

Being human comes with the risk of being a contagion. I’ve seen the curve of my own anxiety, and when fear peaks, I realize that the risk of staying the same is greater than the risk of change.

Categories
Essays

It started with Chapstick: Confessions of an Adolescent Thief

It started with Bonnie Bell Lipsmacker chapstick. That was the social capital in 1999. I had the 6 pack keychain, loaded with Dr Pepper, Blue Raspberry, Cotton Candy, Calypso Punch, Coco Cabana, and Peach Peridot. That winter, Ryan Hudson would eat my Blue Raspberry flavor in Geometry class.

Chapsticks were my first theft. I rode my 1974 Red Schwinn, adorned with playboy bunny stickers from the tanning salon, to Target on the Southside. I squatted in the cosmetics aisle, because then and to this day, my thighs are excellent coverage, took the chapsticks out of the packet, because Krissy Olsen advised me to do so as to not set off the detectors, and dropped the hot carnauba wax into my saddle-bag style purse.

I would then go on to steal bras and underwear from Wal-Mart and sunglasses and earrings from Target. I had methods for each: sunglasses on top of head in case I got caught- I’d say that I forgot they were there- a plausible alibi. Undergarments under clothes, neatly littering the tags in the dressing room corner. After all, I was a thief with morals- a klepto of the finest pedigree.

Petty theft was my first legit antisocial behavior. I justified my crimes with an oversimplified but keen adolescent understanding of capitalism and corruption. Wal-Mart was evil so it was okay to steal from them. I’d never steal from an individual. I had morals, so when a friend’s older sister accused me of stealing a glass trinket from her bathroom after it disappeared from a party, I was offended.

I’d go on to toe the morality line. My highest-ticket theft was a $160 house-plant from Wal-Mart Gardens Center. I put it in a cart and hauled ass across the parking lot to my Ford Taurus, my heart pounding and head tingling with anxiety. It was a gift for my mom, from whom I probably inherited my genuine understanding and compassion for the criminal. I had ethics; if I ever stole anything when shopping with her, I’d whisper in her ear.

“Jackie, I just want to inform you that I’m stealing this Clif bar/kombucha/chapstick/cubic zirconia earrings and I don’t want you to be a party to theft so let’s exit the facility separately.” 

Half of the time, she didn’t believe me until we got into the car and I’d display my stolen goods- with a rush of triumph that keeps kletpos hooked. She continued to shop with me despite my indiscretions.

At my worst, I’d be checking out and paying for things and thinking Damn, I could have stolen that and put the money towards my student loan bills.

My criminal acts went on to include downloading on Napster (a lot), lying on resumes (a lot), writing my own letters of recommendation, having Erin Cummings pretend to be a parent calling me in sick, lying about my income to get credit cards, lying about my rental history to get apartments.

I had a British Literature teacher who would, when students complained about the high cost of her text, respond with “Beg, borrow, and steal.” So I’d buy my textbooks and photocopy the assigned pages outlined in the syllabus and return them for full price. This was before they sealed textbooks in plastic and when they had return policies. My apologies, future generation, for being the one who ruined it for you guys. My current justification: I am an older millennial- the most economically and emotionally fucked-over generation. 

I come from a long line of petty thieves. I witnessed it with my dad and grapes in the grocery store. Even though my dad is familiar with America’s modern currency system, he still tries to haggle at places like Pick ‘N’ Save and Wal-Mart. He relies on his status as a “foreigner” to get away with things like knocking on random people’s doors and offering them offensively low prices to buy their houses that aren’t even for sale. 

A few years ago, he bought two large bags of grass fertilizer- one for his lawn and another for my Uncle Jimmy’s.

After my dad fertilized both of their lawns, Jimmy accused my dad of using more fertilizer on his lawn even though the two split the cost. Both drunk and retired on a summer afternoon, they argued with one another in Jimmy’s front yard- my dad holding a glass of wine and Jimmy a mixed drink. Jimmy bent over and pointed at the grass, counting how many dots of fertilizer there was on his lawn and telling my dad to go count his now.

My dad walked through the back door, his glasses slipped halfway down his nose.

“That mother fucker called me a ‘teef.’ After all I do for him, he got the nerf to call me a ‘teef.”

“He called you a what?” 

Twenty years and about 4 careers after my first theft, my belief in the fairness of our economic system hasn’t changed much. I don’t really feel guilty for having stolen things. I’ve worked for some sketchy companies- like one that “edited” doctoral students dissertations. And by “edit” I mean write. I’ve seen firsthand how companies use underhanded tactics that ruin entire livelihoods to beat out their competition. I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of unfair hiring practices.

I cannot promise that I will no longer be a petty thief. My car insurance policy expires in ten days and I may have to wait until all of my Christmas bills are paid to renew it. But I can promise that I will never make a profit off of others’ labor. My goal for 2020 is to own my own production and I wish the same for you. I am most proud of America’s history of rebellion and freedom; however, I am only proud when standing with one side in those battles. My good people know which side that is.