Belonging

So, I’ve started my new job. I am still an aide or ESL, but this year I’m working at the local high school instead of the elementary, and through a combination of my parents and me showing off, it’s come out that I’m a slam poet. So I’ve been reflecting on this whole poetry thing, which is especially important due to my recent battle with depression.

One problem with depression is the extreme isolation one feels, and all the talk around you of “it’s not all that bad” actually only makes you feel more islated. And what I’ve discovered is that one of the few places I never feel isolated is at slams. Rather, I get this incredible sense of belonging. I feel completely myself and completely accepted. And I feel part of something. Because when you go to a poetry slam, everybody’s there for the same reason, and even they aren’t, they ten to get sucked into to.

There’s an energy about slams that makes them inclusive. Being a part of one is to be a cell in an organism, a single living being and simultaneously part of a much bigger living being. And I realize that’s what got me into poetry. Because for years, that was the only place I could feel like that and it’s the best feeling in the world. And then I went to Lithuania.

Now, this year was my fourth time visiting Lithuania, and every year I’ve gone, I’ve gone during Midsummer. Midsummer in Lithuania is combined with Saint John’s Day, and June 24th is a national holiday. But the 23rd is the day you want to be in Klaipeda. Because that’s the night of the festival.

Now, my school, LCC, is in Klaipeda, but the first year that the real party is the night before the holiday (which is in place for everyone to recover from the party) and I don’t know why I didn’t go the second year. Maybe I actually flew out before the festival, so it wasn’t until my third visit, last year, that I went. I was supposed to go with Annie, my classmate, but she backed out in favor of homework. (This is why you don’t do homework, kids.) But I went anyway, and I’m glad I did.

Now, here comes the problematic part of the story. Whenever people ask me about the festival, I tend to respond with something like, “um… there’s a witch burning and some other stuff…” It doesn’t help that ragana–witch–is one of the few words I actually know in Lithuanian.

So, the festival is held on a moated hill and a Lithuanian folk band plays music and people dance. And that’s about it.There are vendors, and people make wreaths to wear and they might play some traditional games or call everyone named John on stage to embarrass them, but that’s the gist of it. When it gets darker and colder, they light a bonfire and people dance around that. At midnight, they light a straw sculpture on the water. But all in all, it sounds rather anti-climactic.

So you can’t really blame me for telling people, “there’s a WITCH BURNING!” (And in case you’re wondering, the witches are straw.) But the festival is so much more than that. Because being there is like being at a poetry slam. Everyone has gathered for more or less one purpose, and if there for a different reason, you will sucked in. Literally. Like, random strangers will pull you out of the crowd to dance. But that’s what’s so great about it. Because suddenly, you’re dancing in a circle around this bonfire, and you’re laughing so hard your face hurts. And you’re filled–truly filled–with a sense of belonging.

At least, that’s how it happened to me. I mean, I bonded with complete strangers–strangers who didn’t speak my language–whose language I didn’t speak. And since I’ve traveled to Lithuania on an ethnic re-identification quest, that power of belonging was even stronger. And the best part was? I was there alone. Since Annie hadn’t gone with me, I didn’t feel self-conscious very long.I saw folks dancing around a bonfire and decided to join in. And there was no one I had to make an impression to, so I could just be myself. That is also the same feeling I get at a poetry slam. When I am on stage, I owe no one anything, so I can be honest about myself. And in the end? I think it’s that honest that makes these moments possible.

Dixit Writing Challenge Day 10-13

Day 10

This card depicts a boy on a horse about to ride a rainbow over a canyon

Moving forward is never easy. Somewhere over the rainbow is a dangerous place to go, and even if the grass is greener on the other side, you can’t help look back. They say not to, but maybe turning into salt is better than a lifetime with an inner chasm, knowing you can never return because the bridge had dissipated and you’ve grown too big to fit in the cracks in your old house.

Forward is the only option now, and it’s a leap of faith. Rainbows are nothing but fractured light anyway, so who’s to say this life thing isn’t all an illusion? The forest is darker when you arrive, even though you already knew that. Someone left a lamp for you, but it still only lights a few steps ahead and it had a tendency to flicker out. There’s an awful loneliness about going forward. No matter how many people have done it before, you always seem to be cutting a new path. And you always left some part of you across the chasm, forever waving goodbye.

Day 11

This card depicted a woman with an aquarium for a skirt. The result of my free write led me into a nonfiction piece about the Midsummer Festival in Lithuania, which merits its own post in a few days, so in the meantime:

Day 12

This card depicts a purse with a face like the cookie monster. It’s one of my favorite free writes this challenge has pulled out of me.

My purse is a monster! This morning, I thought I would use it to carry my lunch, my water bottle, notebook, lipstick, glasses, sunglasses, pen, pencil, and half a bar of chocolate. I think it was the chocolate that did it. Now my purse is eating my life! As I walked out the door, it sprang to life and swallowed the doorknob. It tried to take the entire door, but I ripped it away just in time.

I don’t know how I’ll get back into my apartment now. I tried to open my car, but it ate my keys, so I walked to work, my purse snacking the whole way there. It ate grass clippings, donuts, coffee from the hands of passersby, the hands of passersby, fruit stands. I’m sorry ma’am! I didn’t take your dry cleaning, my purse ate it.

It ate my neighbor’s cat, my boss’s car, and it’s still hungry. I can’t bring it into work with me. It might eat my co-workers, my boss. Well, that might not be so bad… I’m afraid to give anything back. If I reach down it, my purse might take my arm off. I think I’ve got a solution. I will feed it my paycheck, the source the holes in all my pockets. It worked! My purse has burned up. Of course, now I don’t have a purse… or a paycheck.

Day 13

This card depicts a daisy ripping off its petals.

I love me, I love me not. Some days, I can’t decide, so I will pull my petals out trying to remember. You’d think it would hurt to tear myself apart, going bald in search of self love. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m so used to little girls picking my apart like a daisy that I thought I would get ahead of them by trying it myself. Nothing hurts anymore. The pinch as my petals fall away is nothing compared to the weathering of the wing. The coming storm is a blessing. It washes over the sore spots on my face.

Dixit Writing Challenge Day 9: Trophy Wife

Today’s card has a cat gazing up at a bride and groom in a cage hanging in the night sky. My piece ended up containing references to several Sherlock Holmes stories, in particular, my favorite, “The Case of the Dancing Men.”

Trophy Wife
I married into a cage, trying to escape the monster in the shadows. I thought you loved me when you went in search of a code cracker to find the key to my heart. Then you hung it on the wall, just out of reach and drew blue chalk bars around me. You turned my family into a parade of dancers and hoisted me into the air to watch them by moonlight. When my brother looked up, you painted over the windows so they wouldn’t see me. It only takes a brick to break a pan of glass, but I wanted to shatter more than the trophy case you locked me in.

Dixit Writing Challenge Day 8: The Red House

Today’s card has a guy on a park bench reading a newspaper under a sky full of letters. The piece ended up coming out of this and talking to my friend about memories of the first house I lived in. It’s got more Neverland imagery, but I also felt a Shel Silverstein “Where the Sidewalk Ends” vibe in it (except “where the sidewalk ends” means something completely different in this context.)

The Red House
You cannot capture the Neverland. Its magic is so great the words fly off the page. How I’d like to fly with those letters, to chase them down a river of paint to the home of blackberry memories. I’ll come in through window at the top of the pumpkin house. Our faithful tree still waits for us, its branches dry and brittle. I hit my head on the door frame climbing down the grass stairs. This place used to seem so big. It had portals in the back yard, but someone bricked up the gate, so I take the caterpillar train back out of town.

The turtles have grown up and now their grandchildren run the pump, and they won’t let me have a drink. So I wait until their backs are turned and try to sway it with my words, but once I get the rusted thing on, it won’t turn off. The ditch fills and the water rises in the streets. As it reaches my knees, I search for an escape. My old spider web ladder hangs from one of the trees, but now it just sticks to me. Funny, the powers you lose when you leave the Neverland. Angry at my disobediance, the turtles drag me into the ditch I fight them off with boards from the broken swing, and finally resurface on the sidewalk, surrounded by chalk pictures, melting in the rain.

Dixit Writing Challenge Day 6 & 7: Sibling Rivarly

So, yesterday’s card had a couple playing chess with each other. My favorite part of this card is that their table and chairs are on black and white tile floor, like a chess board. But yesterday, I was busy looking into the possibility of getting a new car, so I didn’t get much time to do a free-write on it. Fortunately, today’s card has a stack of books and a fairy, and games and books have been themes in a poem I’ve been working on for a while, so I went straight to that. This is not anywhere close to done, and I don’t know where it’s going. But there are several parts I like:

Sibling Rivalry
It started with the Tube Game. The Tube Game is the ultimate mashup of all role playing fanfiction geekery in the universe. Each of us would transform into one character from any story ever written or ever to be written, and like MArio, would drop down a magic tube into some alternate reality: Middle Earth, Tortall, New York City. Any book was game. It never mattered that at seven years old, I hadn’t heard of orcs, or that, though three years older than me, you hadn’t witnessed the razor sharp wings of stormwings, they came for both of us, as did teachers on their way to work, pausing to laugh the bus stop avengers.

After you graduated to middle school, I tried to teach our game to others, but it turns out, our rules were not as black and white as a chess board. When others tried to dictate how many spaces we could move in which direction, we turned your bed into the Adventure, and together tossed the rulebook overboard.

The truth is, I wrote this for the same reason I read Dune. Because I have no way to thank you. You don’t accept hugs or handshakes, and you probably don’t accept poems, but if you remember any of this as well as I do, maybe I don’t need to. I still haven’t figured out how to explain to my friends that when the two of us say “Happy Hogswatch,” it carries more weight than every utterance ever of “as you wish,” but I don’t have to explain anything to you. Because we’ve been saving each other’s lives from the beginning.

aanndd lots of run-on sentences. Ookkaayy…

Dixit Writing Challenge Day 5: All the Time in the Universe

Okay, that’s probably not really going to be the final title for this, but my today’s card had a pocket watch with stars in the cover. (If anyone has played Dixit, they will discover that space is a popular theme for this artist). I don’t really have any thoughts on what I wrote today. See what you think of it:

The first time we kissed
I felt the universe down your throat
We were masters of everything
For six years, we danced
around each other, but that night
we danced among fireworks, that kiss
lifted us into the sky
where we could swing on a star
I fell asleep in your arms
like a hammock
strung between two planets
And the next morning
I cut the hands off the clock
for stealing our time
I thought I could stop it
stop everything at the moment you
became the center of my galaxy
But in the absence of the clock
my heartbeat kept time
and so man galaxies
have black holes at their centers
For six years, you consumed me
but I pursued you because my greatest fear
was freezing in the openness of space
without the warmth of your arms
But before you swallowed me
I turned around
and saw the light at my back
The last time we kissed
I slipped down your throat
to another part of the universe.
I promised myself I would still visit
my old galaxy, but with each unspoken word,
each unsent letter, each unanswered prayer,
that promise breaks a little more.
I feel us drifting further apart
a vast emptiness stretching between us
but getting any closer to you
could mean being crushed
My greatest fear now
is that there is nothing in between

Dixit Writing Challenge Day Four: Dune Haiku

Today’s card has an anchor sitting in a desert. I think of this as the Dune card because… well, I guess because deserts always make me think of Arrakis. Since I’ve been writing a lot about more serious topics, like dealing with anxiety and depression, the idea of writing a piece about Dune appealed to me. Ironically, it was a lot harder to get anything down than it was the last three days. I felt something kind of rhymey coming on, though it didn’t scan properly, and I ended with a couple of images I really liked.

As much as I love doing slam style poetry, I also like working on shorter pieces. It gives me the chance to switch from a more conversational, storytelling style and practice working with more dense imagery. And the last poetry slam I competed in almost ended with me in a haiku death match! So I figured I would keep this one around in case of a similar event in the future:

cinnamon sunlight
sparks off earthworm sailboats and
eyes blue as the sky