Remember when you sat on one side of him and the other side was her
him lying on the floor in her house off 24th
and his pain his pain his pain abdominal you wanted to absorb it all
and then the hospital watching waiting waiting waiting until home sleep.
These recent times lying with him, a different matter.
All this starting over. Starting over. Begin again.
Go into this time completely, head forward, eyes up, breathing.
See the world. Start again. Remember your world is different. Your story different.
You don't have to compare yourself with anyone else.
You don't have to rush.
Everything in good patient time and space.
Remember when you visited him another time, same hospital
different organ removed from insides.
First gall bladder, next burst appendix.
Remember when you decided you loved him
that first time you saw him on the other side of the bar
and he limped from basketball.
Remember when you decided to tell him in coded ways
like responding in turn when he said he loved you like a sister
except you meant it in a different way
like giving him a dumb money bank with vintage jokes
or your Billy Joel sheet music anthology
or your used eyeglasses.
Remember that first time you told him love in candid response
and when you sent an email articulating love at length the next night
and two versions of a poem you wrote him five years before that
and you didn't regret but you gulped
and how you needed time room air to let that all this settle and evolve
not knowing what this is or will be
and learning to let go of control and expectation
for healthy self-care.
We grab on.
We eat our throats.
Your mouth. How round meeting mine.
Your kiss suits my longing.
Do you know I’ve loved you since I met you?
It’s true I fall easy, but I don’t stay so with most.
Not like you.
It’s an engine that continues warbling
Despite that distance I travel
Away away away.
Despite trying to shut it off.
My dad died.
My sister visited and kept visiting.
An avalanche of panic.
I found poems under grief.
I tried introducing myself to San Francisco as this artist who gets shit done.
For the first time ever, I discovered I was the most normal person in the room.
My nephew decided he hated me. His way of mourning.
When I asked him why, he said it was my hair or socks or my laugh.
Then he turned four and liked me again. We can hug now.
I wrote myself into a squeezed pinball and created so much muchness
That after December's final performances, I overdosed on activity
And puked three times that night.
You took me on one last road trip,
Down to San Fran where I'd just been,
To San Diego where I never'd been,
Up to Vegas, the first place you took me out of town
For our 2011 birthdays, when I was sure I hated Vegas.
I don't love Vegas still but I'm not good at hating anymore.
I cried a lot during sex.
When you asked what was wrong, I blamed it on my dad.
But then your skin hurt my fingertips.
I got my first tarot reading.
Before that, I was unsure about our state of connection,
Then she said, "Inability to communicate,"
And squeezed my heart on a bench in the salty coast air
Of our school building's 6th floor zen sanctuary.
I knew we were in trouble.
I wore a mask. You pulled it off. We tried to work it out for a week.
Every time we talked, the wall between us widened.
We saw inevitable.
My family looked at me with worried eyes.
They wondered, does this begin new spiraling?
I made several plays. And books of poems. And visual, audio, performance art.
I recreated me. And found my skin worth getting to know.
There was an old and crusty man. A goose of a man, made of gold.
But he wanted more. Wanted all the gold in the world.
For his clothes to be made of the stuff.
He asked the seamstresses and tailors to gather their thread makers and spin all their material into gold. This made the finest fabric, but also the heaviest.
He put on this suit for the ball. Then he sat under the weight. Buckled, more like. He couldn't go anywhere. Couldn't move. Everything too burdensome.
So they brought the ball to him. The night smelled like starlights.
A segment of paradise, all evening.
He saw the world change and grow in his bedroom and outside his window.
Saw the city blow up like confetti. Lots of falling out like snow.
Then he shut his eyes. It was enough for one life.
My hands have this coldness, this wrapping around pen and notebook, holding on for warmth, for dear life. I used to love the cold. This isn't cold.
What's the coldest you've ever been?
My brother read a book about how to talk to people when our dad was dying, that asked questions like that. When he asked me, I thought back to the parking lot in Juneau at my new elementary school. 1990 had this giant freeze moving through the pacific northwest that winter. We'd driven through blizzards in Washington and Idaho, having left blizzards in Central New York when we started off, and here I was, 6 years old in 40-something-below temperatures with windchill.
For a long time, I remembered how cold it was in exaggerated ways. 70-below, for sure. But maybe it was only 20-below. I'm trying to get more realistic over time with what I remember, but how memory works: it never gets truer with age. I remember the orca mascot, though, on either side of the entrance at Auke Bay Elementary. One side was in full color, or black and white, as that's an orca in full color. One side was the Inuit version, all cookie-cuttered out like a print made of bone and heartache.
I always want to go back there. Not to that age, not anymore, but to the land of glaciers which, as cold goes, as Alaska and the Northernmost points of North America goes, is not so bitter by far. It's green. Lush. A rainforest, but not a hot one, it's like--
What's the hottest you've ever been? Do you remember?
That question was in my brother's book, too. I read it after he did. I don't know if it helped me talk to people, though.
I found this in a notebook I kept a couple years ago, writings during a fantastic workshop by a teaching artist specializing in Hip Hop Foundations for youth classes.
Shine the Light
I find the more I teach, the more I learn.
I like what comes from the word facilitator.
I don't like to call myself a teacher.
The closest I get is teaching artist, teaching writer.
Because of how much I learn from my students. My friends. Colleagues. The world.
I love this act of discovering,
Learning something new every day about space, time, me, you, family, us.
I don't always like what I learn but I like the light shone on this new bit of globe.
I want to share my process,
As much as I want to share my work,
As much as I want to travel and make new work.
If I could bring in that journey, my journey, learn yours,
We can share space together
In an attempt to figure out what we as an us have to say,
And what we can do about the struggle,
About the ugly, and find the beauty,
And mirror each other on this path to deeper understanding.
Slash. Span continents. All the self.
As knowledge as possible.
We as in us have to say.
I like that comes out.
Space time me you family.
What good is telling them about
My love if I give love.
So that someone can give it back to me.
Keep an open mind.
Allow yourself to be excited.
Pretending that you know what you're doing.
It's a big teaching summer for me, one looking forward to brand new teaching experiences in the fall (to be announced soon...), so I'm glad to find these words now. Whatever they are -- process writing, poetic material, working notes, they pull me back to the core of what makes teaching a fueling part of my creative process.
I wrote this for the NEA Tell Us Your Story project, a way the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 -- the anniversary of the signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, which created the NEA and and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This piece may or may not get posted, as graduate school responsibilities kept me from writing and sending in a timely manner. But with the NEA and NEH under threat, I feel it important to share this story here now.
The arts are not a luxury. They are the lifeblood of our humanity. For many of us, they are a lifesaver. In under 700 words, here's a few details on how how the arts saved my life, and continue to save my life daily. Thanks for reading.
Creating was an integral part of my childhood. Music. Drawing. Imagination games. Stories. Reading. Writing. Dancing. Children are creators. I latched onto that joy.
At 12, I knew I was a writer. I kept at that title, taking flourishing stabs at poems and stories, an individual figuring out her voice.
Things happened to me in adolescence, as happen to many. Suicidal depression. Self-harm – cutting, burning, punching walls. Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia. Major anxiety. Wild mood swings. Writing was hard those days. I judged what I wrote, editing more than getting words down.
Mental illness pulled me out of school multiple times. I had huge dreams – big college, international travel, overwhelming creative pursuits – but a budding schizo-affective disorder and my disastrous eating disorder took me to a treatment center instead of college after high school.
Once released from the treatment center, I talked my way out of a group home and a psych ward. My family helped me through. So did art.
Those days, I was so medicated I couldn’t read. I all but forgot how. Writing felt impossible. I was afraid to leave the house. But I painted in our kitchen. Nothing great. But it wasn’t about good. It was getting down textures and colors, trying to let go of judgment. I played guitar in the same way, not to find perfection, writing songs about my mood, voices, visions, heaviness and panic. Nothing good or great. Stuff coming out of me.
After months hanging out, painting and strumming, learning how to eat again, my mom saw I needed more pushing. I couldn’t stay at home living off her all my life. She gave me an ultimatum: part time job, college or permanent disability.
First I tried the disability route. The interviews scared me like the interview at the psych ward when I said I changed my mind, I’m not suicidal. Then I tried the job. No one wanted to hire me.
Finally I got into a class at Boise State University, an Intro to Theatre class. I did terribly. Drooling, overmedicated, couldn’t concentrate. I thought I’d fail my first class ever. I’d always been a good student, even when my brain made it hard. Failure seemed a grade of forever hopelessness. Still, I pressed on and did the work. The professor saw something in me. I got an A.
That class led to more, theater classes mostly. I became a Theatre Major, emphasizing in playwriting and design. I wanted to create a new way for me. Going to school, writing, working in props departments at local theaters, I learned how to share again. Sure I was weird, even for a theater kid, but as long as I was contributing and active, it was okay for me to be me.
I still needed meds. Their side effects undid me. I had episodes regularly. But I was writing, learning what playwriting was, what theater was: a life study teaching all of us how to be human. Studying theater saved me from a life of hospitalized nothingness and early death.
After graduating, I got work and projects, but went through downward spirals mentally, weaning off meds. Worse, I found an abusive partner who took me from everything I built up, away from my family and friends, sold everything I had, impoverished me to my worst point ever. But I was writing.
I started writing every day, without thinking or trying to make it good, without editing or judging, filling a notebook a month. Eventually I read what I’d been writing. I saw the choices I was making, the abuse I lived. I built up courage. I left that man.
I started rebuilding my life again. Working creatively in theater and music, writing more than ever. Year by year, I found work as a playwright, as a teaching artist, found the graduate program for me, wrote everything I could get my hands on and found more success than I thought possible.
More importantly, I found health. Self-care. I still get trouble in my brain, but I learn how to cope and how to be. Writing is my lifeline. I can find calm, unmedicated, living by creating, learning and sharing. Art is my stability.
Now, I often feel like a completely different me than the one I was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. I'm grateful I get to write and make theater and make plays and teach my craft daily. I'm lucky to work with several organizations that benefit from the NEA'S funding, or funding that is bolstered by the NEA. These organizations keep me fed and able to survive as an artist in a country that already spends a laughable amount on arts organizations.
Leaders. Please don't hurt my chances at a thriving life, or those of the many artists, students, thinkers, hopers, dreamers and innovators who make this country and world better every day because of organizations that enrich our understanding of what it means to be human and live on this planet. Save the NEA. The NEH. Public Broadcasting. Save our communities. Protect the arts, don't defund them. They save us more than we can monitor -- and they don't cost much.
Fighters. Humans. Artists. You're not alone. This is not a done deal. We can rise up against this. Here's a few ways. Here's another. And what are you doing to act that I don't know about? Let me know, maybe I can help.
Thank you, NEA and all you organizations I love, for making life better for me and everyone I know all the time. Thank you, artists, for doing what you do. It's important. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We've got to give each other all the good we can. Your art makes this world better. Keep doing it, please.
XOXO and so much love,
From January 5, 2015
Writing is a thread that traces backwards. It's a spiderweb that spins me each day, wrapping and unwrapping me. Lets me look back.
This agitation on my breath and in my legs and in my jaw and eyes, crabs pinching.
Write it all gone. Light radiating in the near distance. And really go.
I know this panic is about my dad more than my schedule. I think of the rain pattering on his grave. I think of the twitchy way he rubbed his toes together. His humming, whistling, underbreath grunts. I think of him listening to the radio, the TV on, the radio tuned to a different station in a different room, all at once, whenever Mom was away on errands and he was home.
With him at the base of my thoughts, I think of him when I think of all the things on my list. Writing is my way through it. Shows me where to look. My lantern. My compass into peace. Where I've been and where I'm going. Where I am and where I need to mark my next step.
Over time, I realize I can use this space for whatever I want. Posts like above are ones I'd usually reserve for 50 Shades of Kraay, and previously avoided sharing them from here. At first I wouldn't think this piece was process related. But of course it is. This is from my daily writing practice, which is all process, raw material I unleash without knowing where it will go, and read through later on. And it's about writing. So there, editor brain.
The longer I keep up this space, I have to make keep it fun and interesting for me, thereby following my interest wherever it goes. Right now it's going here to this two year old writing -- and to my cat playing fetch with me and her neon green toy mouse. So you can expect more posts like this, and like anything that feels right to me at the time. Thanks for reading!
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: