Tis the season
to gather round a tree
And celebrate bounty.
Sounds like all the years
of my childhood.
Where there never was
a white Christmas.
Do you remember when Jay-Z and Beyonce got married?
I was standing in a gas station somewhere on the border of Montana and Idaho waiting for a shift change to be carried out. On a Greyhound bus, I’d just learned, each passenger must disembark before the drivers change places at a different location. I had boarded the bus four hours previously in Bozeman, Montana at 3:15am and while I’d rather not have parted with my seat and my pillow, I held my tongue and walked sleepily into the freezing cold morning. Had it been a less ungodly hour, I might have protested, or at least had the wherewithal to grab my purse.
Instead, I walked into the gas station groggy and shivering. It was heated and like a dog curling up in front of the fire, I settled in to the magazine rack. This was 2008, long before Bey ran the world, when Jay was still the power of the couple by my estimation and before they named their child a color. People magazine had printed a story about their very private penthouse nuptials. “From the White Orchids (70,000!) to the Famous Guests and the Crazy-Expensive Cigars, Inside the Power Couple’s Ultra-Private New York City Wedding” read the by-line.
Seventy thousand orchids, I thought, I better see what that looks like. And, obviously, I hoped to see a picture of the dress.
I didn’t get to see pictures of either. I shut the magazine a little disappointed, but also kind of happy that they’d actually pulled off a celebrity wedding that the paparazzi hadn’t infiltrated.
Good for them, I thought, placing it back on the shelf.
“Weren’t you on that bus?” the meth addict cashier said to me. I looked through my red eyes at her brown teeth trying to process the tense she was using.
“What?” I asked, mentally preparing myself for some kind of atrocity.
The term “feminist.”
It does not mean I don’t want a boy or girl to open doors for me.
Please hold my hand.
And walk me home.
It does not mean I won’t do the dishes
and the laundry
And feed us.
Which is why
You should too, occasionally
It does not mean that I won’t shave my arm pits
or wax my hairy bits.
It does mean that I’d like you to earn the privilege to comment
on such things.
Which brings me to:
Put a ring on it.
In feminist terms:
Communicate your intentions.
What you want.
How long you want it for.
What your expectations are.
and this is important,
Listen while she tells you her intentions
And her expectations.
Here is the big one:
If I stand
in a teeny bikini
with every inch
of my god given beauty
I shall not fear
that any person
will lay a finger on me.
Keep your laws to yourself, too.
That I reside in
Divinely and unequivocally.
Not as a man
Not as woman
As a person.
And a writer.
A creative thinker, activist, and problem solver.
A mother, a daughter, a lover.
Above and below
and in between
all of those lines.
Not boxed in by them.
Abused by them.
*These, of course, are only my personal opinions and I don’t claim to speak for all people.
Ali and Heather walked home from cheerleading practice with an aura of sulkiness about them. The trees were just beginning to set fire above the suburban road, but the two fourteen year old girls were so chocked full of self-doubt that they couldn’t see the autumn delight. The yellow and orange leaves mingling with the green in the pleasant afternoon went unnoticed because lately, things had not been going Ali’s way.
When school first started in the fall it didn’t seem to matter that she was the new kid. Despite her original fears, freshman year had started alright. Ali had been chosen for the JV cheerleading squad, she had made some nice friends, and a boy even shared his sandwich with her at lunch. In girl world, things could not have been better. Then one day, out of the periwinkle sky, a shadowy cloud rolled in and settled itself just above Ali’s pretty, red-head. Continue reading My Mother is Not in a Cult
I am an intimacy junkie. Ask my boyfriend. I need it like oxygen.
The closeness, the familiarity, the private cozy friendship, the feeling that my feelings are shared. Without it I feel lonely, even in a room full of people. It has only recently occurred to me that the fault of this doesn’t fall upon my parents, or myself, not my sun sign or moon sign. Instead, I have Edith Wharton to blame. Along with Ernest Hemingway, Pat Conroy, Jane Austen and every other author who has written a story with characters so engaging that it became a world within and completely outside of my own.
Books define intimacy. They make you laugh, cry, blush, shiver, shriek, and tremble. You take them to bed with you again and again, and then, never again. They let you in. They show you their deepest and darkest secrets, the really sick ones, and the cheesy ones that just seem like bragging. They trust you. They let you love them. And then it’s over. So, you pick up the next one and hope to be satisfied. Or you stick with the same one, and you learn new things every time. As you grow, it changes, but the closeness is always there.
And, thanks to fabulous people like Mitchell Kaplan, and The Knight Foundation, and Miami Dade College, and everyone who continues to buy books – real, tangible books – this cycle of paper thin, black and white, one-sided, insatiable, insomniac love continues. Because, let’s face it, junkies need their fix.
So, as we welcome the big weekend of the Miami Book Fair International, here are some tips of the trade that I’ve gathered over the last few days to help you navigate the oddly cool and wet streets of Downtown Miami this weekend. Or to help you sound a little more industry savvy at your next book club.
1. Books are called “titles” as in, “Do you have the new title by Paulo Coelho?”
2. Published writers are called “authors” as in, “I prefer this author, to that one.”
3. If you are coming to the fair as a writer who is trying to talk to publishers about becoming an author, I’ve got sad news for you, there are not a huge number of opportunities for that. The publisher’s advice: get an agent. On the plus side, there are a huge number of writers wandering around to commiserate with, or to learn from on Writer’s Row.
4. People who work in book stores are called “book sellers.” These are the people who physically get the book into the hands of the public. Thank them, and be patient when they can’t get to you fast enough. There are so many of you, and so few of them.
5. This is the largest literary fair in the country. You should come. It’s only $8. Seniors and teenagers are $5. Kids are free. I assure you there is something for everyone. Like comic books, and funnel cakes.
In what world is this
Too pretty to kiss
Too bold to relate
Too pedantic about fate
Too sure to question
Too pure, this breath
Too undying this passion
Too soon this death
Where mediocrity thrives, certainty dies
Petulance cries and devotion tries
For a stronger pull in this way or that
The way strangers stare at a fabulous hat
Like a bird of paradise lures his mate
Ordinary won’t do for an extraordinary fate
In generalities, where some subside
It’s too slippery a slope down which depth will slide
Too much beauty to see
Too much wine to drink
Too fresh is the fruit
The nectar, too sweet
Too tangible to ignore
Too potent the scent
Too intoxicating the joys
Too drenched in wonderment
Too spoiled by lovers who knew all too well
Too sure of the truths that one kiss will tell
Too fickle to stay in one place and wait
Too tempted by the promise in every day break
In what world is this? I ask faithfully
(Wearing a fabulous hat and coat of serenity)
“So,” says the darling person genuinely interested in my life, “what have you been up to?”
“Well,” I start, looking to whatever person or book I happen to be in public with for support, “I just finished editing my novel.”
And in that time, before they process how to answer this statement, I wonder: do they not believe me? does it sound as strange to them as it does to me? do they write best-sellers in their spare time?
I wrote a book, I remind myself. My third, and this one’s good, get it together. But I’m not published yet (and this destroys me).
“Wow,” they say, finally, “that’s great!”
And it is. They say.
But I haven’t sold it.
You haven’t read it.
So what is it, really?
It’s just a leap of faith, on your part.
You believe: 1. that I have actually written said book. 2. that I’ve done it well. and 3. that I’ll become successful enough, that you’ll know someone famous enough, to brag about.
Because that’s what this is, isn’t it?
The proximity to greatness.
I know, because I want it too. That light of genuine feeling that people relate to whole heartedly. The one that is pure. The one that shines so bright that basking in someone else’s is fine. Because it’s honest.
This is why I wince. Why this conversation is so uncomfortable for me, and why I hesitate to answer the question. Because in this scenario I am the one who will have made something great.
Which is why I keep writing.
Because here, being naked isn’t just for show, it’s necessary.
Four years ago, I had never worked in the hospitality industry. I had lived with four servers and one bartender from Applebee’s in college, and I had seen the movie Waiting. I had actor friends who were either wait staff or baristas. I’d had the fortune of eating in outstanding establishments, but I had never heard the term Back of House, or Yes, Chef.
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Genetics are dumb luck as far as I’m concerned. Throughout history, whether you were born into the working class or the aristocracy was your fate. These days, we live in a world where you can change your stars. That is, if you were born in a first world country, and you are provided education. I could’ve been born a girl in Pakistan or I could’ve been born a boy in Western Africa. I got lucky, though. I won the gene pool lottery.
My mother and father are the winged unicorn of married couples. They have been married over forty years, they still love each other, and they still like each other. They sing show tunes and “I Got You, Babe,” there’s a video of that that I will never post – you’re welcome. My father supports my mother in all of her endeavors. He shows me the same respect. He supported me through soccer and water polo and cheerleading, expecting me to do my best in each of them. My brother never cut me any slack. No one ever let me win and when I won, no one was surprised.
My paternal grandmother was a golf pro. Even after she won a fight with breast cancer, after a full mastectomy, she returned to the game, as a pro. If that isn’t tough, I don’t know what is. My maternal grandmother had four kids, an airline pilot husband who was off flying most of the time, and was a league tennis champ. These women were stylish and clever and strong, like a girl, so why isn’t that how the phrase is applied?
Only once in my house did I hear the phrase, “like a girl”. My neighbor and I were putting on our rollerblades. I had wrist guards and he didn’t. “Do you want to use these?” I asked. “No,” he shrugged, “you need them. You skate like a girl.” Later that day when my mom was about to take him home, I shut that boys fingers in the car door. We were about eight years old and I played it off like it was an accident. I’m not sure that he even correlated the two incidents, he was quite literally crushed. I cannot honestly say I didn’t feel a sense of victory in hurting him physically, for the way he had hurt my young and developing physicalness. I’m sure if I did something like that today I would be called a “psycho bitch.” And would you agree?
I bet you would. I was a child, and of course what I did was wrong. Even then I felt bad and apologized profusely. But here’s my problem. You don’t poke a lion and expect to walk away unscathed. You don’t insult a man and expect there won’t be repercussions. So why can you tell a girl that she’s doing something “like a girl” and not expect her to prove to you exactly what that means?
YES, I AM A GIRL. I am able bodied and smart, and I will retaliate against your sexism in one way or another. My brother and my father taught me to. My mother and my grandmothers told me that skating faster than him was enough, and not to rub it in. But I disagree.
I want to change the stars. I want young boys and girls to know that they can do and be anything without gender factoring in as a limitation on that. I want to speak my mind, and I want to do it proudly, like a girl. So tell me, why doesn’t “run like a girl” mean win the goddamn race?
A caustic compliment
From the curve of your lip
Matches your cruel beauty
Like satin ripped
The accidental truths
Dropped off your tongue
Are fallen angels slain
They are your demons undone
There is dissonance in those eyes
A freezing wind blows through your soul
No matter how many matches I strike
There’s no fire, just coal
Is there passion in this pain?
Where is the depth to the misery?
Like the stench of decaying flesh
You reek of apathy.
“I’m not going paint balling,” said one TSA official to the other across the conveyor belt that had just delivered one of my boots.
“Come onnnnnnn,” the agent on the other side replied.
“Not gonna happen. It’s too cold out there.”
I watched the screen of the X-ray machine in the distance wondering if it was possible that this could turn into a washing machine eating my sock episode. I had just had those boots resoled and shined.
“You’re supposed to go paint balling in the cold,” he kept on, “that way you can run around and you ain’t sweaty.”
“Bag check,” the woman sitting at the X-ray screen called stifly.
“Fine,” he said, “but you sound like a girl.” He smiled and shook his head back and forth, then he picked up the bag to check. It was mine.
“I would go,” I said.
He looked at me. One boot, one tennis sock with leggings tucked in to it, a hoodie and a panda scarf, but I had my hair did and my eyebrow game was on point. I smiled.
“I would go paint balling in the cold,” I said. The X-ray girl smiled at me. “I would out run you, and get sweaty, and aim to fire. So don’t go calling him a girl, he’s nothing like a girl.”
He blinked at me and put the suitcase down.
“Do you think you could be a dear and find my boot now, please, like a girl?”