Larissa Nash grew up in the Everglades and spent many summers in Ohio and Hawaii. She holds a B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans and an M.F.A. from Pacific University. Her hobbies include rain-dancing and soothsaying. Larissa has participated in several of Francesca Lia Block's online workshops, and she is the founding editor of Rose Red Review. Her work has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, December Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Toast. She currently lives in Georgia with her cats, one of which is part Florida bobcat.
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Two years have passed since I defended the piece I wrote for xoJane, and I’ll admit it: I wish I’d never written that whiny, “Oh, poor me!” piece of crap. (Yes, it really did happen to me. I should have kept it to myself.)
I was just trying to save face. I come across badly in the article, and I know it. As always, I live and learn.
Last December, I submitted a story for xoJane’s popular column, It Happened To Me. At the time, I’d only been reading xoJane for two months, and I naively considered the site a “safe space.” I had no idea my article would receive such a negative response. Commenters tore me apart. (And I, in turn, gave them a piece of my mind. I know now I should have let their comments roll off my back.) I received a flurry of cruel comments via e-mail, including a threat to “watch my fat ass.” My return flight information was cut and paste into the e-mail. I contacted one of xoJane’s editors and requested she take down my IHTM. I believed the commenters who said I couldn’t write, I suffered from a victim complex, I was entitled and rude, etc.
Now, I’m glad my IHTM wasn’t taken down. I received several kind, supportive comments here. On my return flight, one of the gate agents approached me and said I looked familiar. She was super-nice. I felt shy around her, so I mumbled something in response. I wish I hadn’t felt raw from my article’s backlash. The fact this Delta employee treated me like a human being served in stark contrast to the Delta employees who have not. I realized that, while I may come across like a victim in my article, feeling sorry for myself doesn’t negate the fact people can be cruel.
Last month, I opened the inbox for Rose Red Review, only to discover someone had sent me a hate note and a link to an old Reddit thread. (Side note: I’ve rejected several “fat girl on a plane” poems since January. I suspect my form rejections weren’t dramatic enough for this person, who then sent me a link to the Reddit thread.) I couldn’t resist its pull.
What I read stung.
Although it hurt to read a stranger on the internet no longer considered me “exceptionally pretty,” I’ve thought worse things looking into the mirror after I’ve washed my face. It hurt more to see strangers on the internet question whether or not I was telling the truth. I threw myself a little pity party. I cried on my roommate’s shoulder, then I comforted myself with the knowledge several people in the thread lacked reading comprehension (never did I claim I’d been thrown from a flight). I pushed it from my mind.
A week later, I had the opportunity to listen to the poet Vievee Francis. She stressed we should look hard at the people who tell us to self-erase–the people who tell us we shouldn’t talk about being women, about battling depression, about the experiences of people of color, about sexuality. For several weeks, I considered her words. I quietly observed certain commenters on xoJane silence other women, the way I had been silenced. Now, I can’t believe I wanted to self-erase my article–to see it stripped from the site. Confessional writing is important.
A few days ago, I read an article, At 31, I’m Finally Old Enough That People Can Accuse Me Of “Aging Badly” On The Internet. In it, xoJane editor-in-chief Emily McCombs details her reaction to a thread about her looks. Several commenters were incensed she chose to discuss her hurt feelings (which I think are valid) over their criticisms of the site. These commenters then mentioned The Site That Must Not Be Named, where they discuss their so-called valid criticisms. I sought out The Site That Must Not Be Named, only to discover a thread in which posters tear down the editors of xoJane, its writers, and certain commenters. Any valid criticisms of the site (and there are a few) are buried beneath pages and pages of mean girl bitching. Further, the claim xoJane exploits vulnerable, mentally ill women is absurd. While I agree women like me should consider whether we are strong enough to gracefully endure backlash, xoJane didn’t seek out my story. I haven’t been exploited.
From now on, I refuse to self-erase. No woman who writes for xoJane or edits it should feel pressured to self-erase or apologize for sharing an experience. In the future, I will exercise caution before I share a certain thought, opinion, or experience, but I’m proud of the woman I’m becoming. I wouldn’t have reached this point without sharing my story and reflecting on it.
If commenters were truly concerned about those of us who bare our souls, they wouldn’t tear us apart in the comments and elsewhere. These commenters know stories on xoJane often come from a raw, insecure place. They aren’t interested in protecting us. They’re interested in tearing down the site itself–in silencing our voices.
Sometimes, I let people talk me into believing I’m not very talented. Perhaps I’m not. I tend to abuse the em dash, the colon, and the semicolon. I can’t even read some of my poems without cringing (though I do have an ear for strange rhyme; e.g., “ether” and “tether”). Still, I’m bummed out: Flutter Poetry Journal is no more. Its editor nominated one of my poems, “The Lady in Red,” for the 2013 Best of the Net. It seems unlikely I will ever receive another nomination (unless my style drastically improves).
I was proud of the poem and its nomination. Now, it’s as though the nomination never happened.
For me, January seldom means soul-searching. I make New Year’s resolutions, but I never intend to keep them. The ritual of goal-setting is as much a comfort as eating black-eyed peas for good luck. When I draw a Tarot card on New Year’s Eve, I know it won’t it offer any real guidance. It’s just fun to down champagne and drunkenly read my own fortune.
This year, however, I have a specific goal in mind: weight loss. Although I spent 2013 as an advocate for fat acceptance, the experience left me raw and vulnerable. I no longer have an identity outside She Who Has Been Bullied. I still believe in the body positive movement, but I seldom feel comfortable in my own skin. When I’m alone in front of a mirror in a public restroom, I see someone who could be beautiful: a well-dressed chick with pale green eyes, porcelain skin, full lips. So, I do what most of us do when we feel pretty: I snap several selfies. I upload the photos to MyCeleb, where I am compared to Monica Bellucci, Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie. Suck it, world! I think. I’m fucking pretty.
Then, someone opens the door to the restroom. It doesn’t matter what she looks like. The restroom mirror becomes a funhouse mirror, and an immensely fat person is reflected back at me. I worry I betray other fat girls when I nitpick my own body, but my reflection repulses me. I look bloated and sick. I push the flab on my chin toward my ears and wonder what it’d be like to be pretty.
I may never know. Losing weight isn’t the answer. I only know I’m uncomfortable in my skin. Other fat girls are cute. Perhaps confidence does have something to do with it… I want to find out. I need to lose the weight before I turn thirty-five. (I’m thirty-three now.) I feel young, but I know I’m “old.” I wasted my twenties. I didn’t have any boyfriends. Nobody called me beautiful.
Should it matter? Of course. When I was in elementary school, we learned human beings need four things to survive: water, food, shelter, and love. I can romanticize my life as The Hermit, and in truth, I don’t really need anyone, but I feel sad and empty. My depression and moods have cost me a lot of friends. Not many people like me these days. I can understand why: people are drawn to inspiring, uplifting people. Nobody likes a lone wolf (unless said lone wolf is a sexy dude on a TV show or something).
I’ll start small. I’ll eat carrots instead of chips. I’ll drink more water than soda. I’ll only eat out once a week. I’ll work out every day, via DVD. I’ll clean the house. I’ll read more. I’m only in Austin for a few more months, so I might as well spend my time wisely and reprogram my mind. By March 1st, I want to feel confident enough to brave the gym.
Change takes time. I’m especially hard on myself when it comes to social interaction, but if I feel good about myself, I think it’ll be easier for me to interact with people. I think they’ll like me more. I’m tired of feeling damaged.
So, here’s to 2014! May it be a pretty good year–the year I finally heal.
After I contacted the editor of a certain publication about reviewing books of poetry, Night Songs arrived in my postal box, a replacement for an old book the editor could not find. Unfortunately, my review was rejected, about an hour before the editor announced the publication would no longer publish reader reviewers. I’m a little upset; however, since I cannot review a book of poetry to save my life, it’s for the best.
I’m very happy to have discovered this lovely collection (and, despite its flaws, I like my commentary on it). You should read Night Songs!
Night Songs by Kristina Marie Darling
Night Songs is a lovely, haunting collection: each piece flows into the next, the way music settles into the corners of a room during intermission. Kristina Marie Darling has crafted poems about music that move like ghosts: each poem a note of music that seems to chime in my ears long after it has become inaudible. There is a sense something has been forgotten. I drift through these poems, pressing my palms into wallpapered rooms. I can hear the slamming of blue shutters. What have I forgotten? “Outside, the evening [opens] like a black umbrella” (9).
Night Songs is the sort of poetry collection I seek out. In Of Human Bondage, W.S. Maugham writes:
Now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me….there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there. (413)
This collection is one such flower: a pale, frosted rose. The gorgeous, atmospheric poems skirt the edge of the subconscious and rumble when read aloud. As I read Night Songs, I wander the halls of an abandoned building that somehow feels familiar.
The first section consists of prose poems, linked by a twinkling chain of images: a cello, teeth, windows, an old opera house, wings, a hum, the moon, foliage, applause. These poems are strange and dreamy, without seeming intentionally so. There is a whisper of restlessness, quietly mimicking the way the poems seem to echo:
You walk past a crystal decanter glistening near the harpsichord. Since our guests left for the ocean, with its dark enclaves and its low mumbling, the lakes have done nothing but rain. And our dim halls become more cavernous with every evening. When I ask why the rooms buzz with damselflies, you merely nod your head. The shutters blow open and closed. Our parlor hums like trees shifting before a storm. (16)
At this point in my reading, I realized the poems glisten. The crystal imagery is appropriate: the words make me think of the clink of a decanter stopper. Darling is adept at using language to create entire scenes of onomatopoeia. The images help me hear the sounds of the moment before I form a clear picture of it in my head. In “ENNUI,” I can literally hear the speaker’s boredom.
Certain poems are mysterious. “THE TENOR” suggests a woman swept away by song and memory:
It’s evenings like these I think he’s singing again, all diaphragm and gusto, his arms outstretched with the dark blue notes of La Bohème. Even the crystal begins to hum. Yet when the chorus starts up, crooning languidly into the greenish night, a colorless moon hangs speechless in every window. The only sound—a beveled mirror shuddering in its frame. Then the room grows still like a little bell chiming on the hour. (24)
Section II is experimental: a collage of text borrowed entirely from Victorian guides to music appreciation. I would not have realized it, had I not read the notes. Darling has arranged the text in a way that sounds remarkably like her own voice. I particularly enjoy this piece:
the very nature of cleverness,
which renders it liable
to mislead itself
or other people.
Confront it with something indescribable—
that lies within the husk of things
possesses its ruin—
as if a spider should mesh his legs— (48)
The text does not seem old-fashioned; instead, it adds to the collection’s otherworldly tone.
The third section consists of a series of poems that sound like snippets of the first section’s poems as they echo in a room with a vaulted ceiling. The placement of the words on the page mirrors the collage poems of Section II:
The music begins & I think of
its tangled heart. O
yellow moon, nerve wracked
song like a house,
The entire collection of night songs is a strange, ethereal symphony in three movements. “As the lady sings, light in her hair becomes a constellation, its points aligned in the pale November sky….[Kristina Marie Darling] sings and sings” (14).
by A. R. Ammons:
“Tape for the Turn of the Year.”
I feel a bit foolish.
“book-length” meant book-length—
except I had no idea of the meaning.
I confess: on some level,
“book-length” meant novel.
How could I have been so wrong?
I still think in terms of character development—
of conflict. The tip
of an iceberg.
Poetry is different. I know this.
I have my own muse. When I was sixteen,
I called her
Louisa. Did I really mean
Larissa? Some shadow self?
Louisa was a ghost. A flapper
from New Orleans. She had backstory.
I drank watered-down coffee
in Denny’s at 3 AM
and scribbled in pale yellow crayon
on glossy postcards. I couldn’t read
my own words.
The Muse matters.
because I’ve decided, the
to do this foolish
a fool who
plays with fool things….
I’m attracted to paper,
visualize kitchen napkins
with little masterpieces:
it was natural for
this roll of
adding machine tape. (2-3)
I understand this fascination.
I understand what Ammons
has set out
I feel a bit different:
When I searched Google
for book-length poems,
I had a particular book-length poem
by Toby Barlow.
It’s about werewolves
Still, it reads like
Ammons mentions Odysseus, but there
is nothing epic
about his poem, and he
knows it. Simply put,
he wanted to keep a journal
on a roll
of adding machine tape.
It reads like poetry
because of forced line breaks—
crumbled sentences confined
by lack of space—and because Ammons, a poet,
[he] can’t tell a great
story: if [he] were
Odysseus, [he] couldn’t
I have been unfair. So, too, has Ammons.
His month-long sliver of recorded life
is anything but dull. It is often
broken by keys:
* * *
* * * *
* * *
There is a plane crash. Ammons discusses
identity. Reality. The weather.
I long for story.
There are shapes. Why not
How might I classify
Like Ammons, “I’m having
this conversation with a
piece of paper” (46).
Would Ammons and Joyce
have been friends?
This napkin has nothing
I wonder what Louisa
would have to say? Is she acquainted
Not much has changed
since December 1963, when Ammons
wrote this piece
on adding machine tape. The Earth continues to warm.
It storms. There is love.
Does “Tape for the Turn of the Year” have meaning?
I suspect Ammons
is a deconstructionist,
even though I’m not entirely sure
what that means.
(I’m not writing
on a napkin, though no one would believe me
if I were.)
Ammons loses steam—he types one word per line
in one section
on 14 Dec. He knows his project
is more novelty
Perhaps he wants to seem a deconstructionist.
Does he simply want
to keep a journal
on a roll of adding machine tape?
is a new
There is no red ink. There is no tape.
This commentary isn’t
emptiness: it may
not be unlike
in voyages, there
are wide reaches
with no islands: (204)
I am ugly. And awkward.
Looking at the photo on the right, you might think, “Girl, you’re crazy.” But I’m not. I can’t tell you how many internet friends have met me in person, only to seem puzzled (and occasionally horrified), eventually asking the million dollar question(s): “How old are the pictures you post? Are they even you?” When I was in college, a friend of a friend wandered into the writing lab, where I worked, and he asked me if he could speak to Larissa. He didn’t even bother to disguise his shock when I told him I was Larissa. Later, I overheard him tell my friend, “Well, that was disappointing. You were right. She looks nothing like her photos.”
Except, I do. If you were to look at me close-up, or from above, I might seem attractive, provided my hair is professionally styled and I refrain from smiling. I am what we used to call a S.I.F.: a secret internet fattie. Unfortunately, unlike most fat girls, I don’t have pretty teeth, my skin is a mess, and my hair and nails are terrible. I know I’m ugly. I have no idea why I’m so photogenic. I sometimes joke it is my fairy tale curse: my “true form” is visible through a camera lens, instead of through a mirror. But that just makes me seem vain.
I have become increasingly awkward as a result. I’ve always been shy around people I don’t know, but when I was in high school, I’d had the same friends for years, and I was pretty and thin. I felt comfortable and confident. I began to gain weight my junior year, and it surprised me how cruel people became. One girl–whose Mean Girl name and personality I will never forget–approached me and said, “Do you remember me from French class? …Yes? Are you pregnant?” She cackled in my face, then she returned to her gaggle of giggling Mean Girl friends. I cried in the bathroom for hours. Still, I didn’t see myself as ugly. I suspected I was ugly, but what I saw in the mirror didn’t seem ugly–not for five years, anyway.
I once believed people were quick to bully me about my appearance because they felt as though I had lied to them, but then strangers began to treat me like garbage. This behavior has become so commonplace, I no longer believe losing weight will solve the problem. I think it will help–overweight women tend to stand out more–but I don’t think I will shed the pounds and become a swan maiden. I’m just gross.
Not me, but that’d be cool.
So, people terrify me. I have no idea what to say to anyone. I went from being shy, to being completely awkward in a social setting. What’s worse: I sometimes feel the need to apologize for my awkwardness or to explain my behavior (e.g. “I’m sorry if I seem awkward; I’m just really, really shy, and I need lots of alone time.”). I once thought I’d gradually become an introvert, because I do need time to “recharge”; however, people don’t make me feel drained. Worrying about whether or not I will alienate other people makes me feel drained.
I spend way too much time worrying about how I will be perceived. There is a huge difference between shyness and awkwardness. It seems awkwardness is a hipster thing to claim, but I have yet to meet even one hipster who fits that description. I worry people will dismiss me as mentally ill, mean, on drugs, or simple. I want to tell people that I’m worth getting to know, but I’m so very skittish, I put everyone off. I wish I could fix my personality.
On the plus side: I really am like a fairy tale character. On the other hand: this is real life. I’m not even sure why I wrote this entry. If anyone else knows what it is like to feel as though everyone will hate you because of the way you look and because you’re so shy, you seem to have a shit personality, you’re not alone. I feel your pain.
In the early days of the internet, in Ye Ole Livejournaltown (c. 2000-2005), I went by “Araminta.” My first journal has since been deleted and purged (and taken over by a gothic model), but I have fond memories of my time as Araminta/”Minty.” No one knew my real name. I made so many friends. Over the past year, I lost nearly all of them.
In Ye Olde Livejournaltown, I posted silly .wav files as Miss Minteh, a psychic medium in the style of Miss Cleo. Instead of a feigned Jamaican accent, I spoke in the gruff, whisky-guzzling voice of a crazy old bag lady pretending to be a voodoo queen. I still remember the recording that made everyone laugh the most. It went almost exactly like: “Spirits! Miss Minteh is here for you! …Now where are those spirits? (Drunken slurring, bottles clanking.) What’s that? Yes. Yes, I hear you! Yes, Miss Minteh is listening, mmmm-hmmm. And now I will commune with… with… Tupac!” The recordings were over-the-top ridiculous, yet each one seemed to delight my friends. I lost the recordings during a laptop crash in 2006, and I began to go by my real name. Everyone seemed to prefer Araminta to Larissa. Around this time, Livejournaltown became a ghost town.
I miss the rosy days of internet yore–I do.
Miss Minteh was created in response to what most South Floridians had known for years: Miss Cleo was a fraud. That is not to say I didn’t/I don’t believe in psychics. I come from a line of women I refer to as the old wives: West Virginia women who embody the Victorian vision of someone associated with the occult (country magic, folk remedies, intuition, a belief in the supernatural and the Christian god). My mother and my great-grandmother both speak/spoke to the dead in their dreams, and my mother is a particularly gifted psychic. I, too, strongly feel I have communicated with ghosts in my dreams, and many of my “dream visions” have come true (sadly, most of these dreams have concerned natural disasters). My mother says my “gift” is stronger than hers. We’ve butted heads a bit, because I don’t believe in the Christian god. When I was a teenager, I flirted with Wicca (my mother became terrified I was a Satanist), but I’m not sure I believe in any deities. I believe in elemental energy (the life force radiating from all living things), and I believe in science. The main problem I have with Christianity–apart from its hateful, judgmental practitioners–is that it is clearly the creation of man. The bible is literature. I would sooner believe in the Greek gods, because while it doesn’t make sense for an all-powerful deity to come from nothing, it makes sense for a pantheon of gods to be descended from the primeval god-sludge of the titans–sort of like the big bang, the universe, human evolution, etc. In any case, I don’t presume to know what’s out there. I only know I am drawn to nature.
I don’t speak much about my belief in ghosts and visions, because I don’t want anyone to view me as a kook–the way I view Christians as kooks. In my belief system, anything that goes against science (creationism, say) cannot be real. At the same time, I realize ghosts, visions, and energies have been dismissed as hokum by science. I am aware I sound just like a Christian when I say it’s possible there are mysteries we do not understand–mysteries that may eventually be explained by science. My rational self is at odds with my spiritual self.
But this is backstory.
In early October, as I considered the selection of strawberries at the grocery store, a woman approached me. I could feel her staring at me. I thought I was in the way, so I smiled at her and moved my cart. She complimented my eyes. When I thanked her for the compliment, she said, “Were you aware someone cursed you?” I was taken aback at first, but you know, I did know. For some time, I have felt the bad energy directed at me. The woman asked me whether I had ever had my cards read, and I said that I had. She said she normally charges for readings, but that negative energy so permeated my aura, she wanted to help me. We sat down at a table in the cafe next to the produce section. She pulled out an ordinary deck of playing cards and told me to shuffle the deck. She then told me to select three cards: I chose the Eight of Hearts, the Queen of Spades, and the Three of Hearts. She said I was the Queen of Spades, and the person who cursed me was the Three of Hearts. She said that, while this person may not have intentionally cursed me, this person (a woman who feels betrayed) has worked to turn others against me. She then said curses are a “low energy vibration” that can be deflected. I asked her about the rule of three, and she smiled and said, “You won’t cause her harm. Just be positive, and the curse will be broken. She wants you to be miserable, and is telling people the fact you are unhappy is ‘proof’ you wronged her.” She then tapped the Eight of Hearts and said, “It probably feels like everyone in your life is against you. There is a lot of negative energy directed at you, and not just from this woman and the friends you once shared. Just be positive, and things will change. I can tell you are in a lot of pain.” I asked her whether the playing cards corresponded to certain Tarot cards, and she said she was unfamiliar with the Tarot–that her mother taught her to read playing cards, and the method worked well for her. She then said, “I think your mother taught you certain things as well.” She said I have a gift and should explore the spiritual path I abandoned. It was all very eerie. She wished me well and went on her way.
For a while now, I have felt the pull toward green witchcraft. I look around my house, and I see how I organize my crystals and statues in clusters, like little altars. While I do not believe in deities, there are certain aspects of Wicca I never gave up: Tarot reading, scrying, lucid dreaming, herbalism, gardening, meditation. That’s all it really is: a balancing of the self; attunement with nature and one’s living space. I think of this attunement as being similar to the law of attraction. I know I am negative. I know I am impacted by what has happened to me in my life and the way people treat me. I believe this balancing will help, in the same way a healthy garden feels different from a dying garden. I’ve neglected my garden (and my house–man, do I ever need to clean out my closets), and I really do think tending to it is the first step toward tending myself and breaking this horrible cycle of negativity.
I won’t smear the people who dislike me. I’ve done that enough. They wronged me, and in most cases, I did nothing wrong (beyond standing up for myself in my admittedly abrasive way), but that is the past. It is time to move forward. I wish them well. They do not like me, and they are no longer a part of my life, but there is no reason to hold on to this anger.
So, when xoJane ran a piece about a Tarot card reader, I requested a general reading. I suspected the three cards I drew during my playing card reading were the Eight of Swords, the Queen of Cups, and the Three of Swords, and I wanted to see what a Tarot card reader had to tell me. I wasn’t disappointed:
And there it is: the Eight of Swords.
According to Ananda:
For you, this card indicates the best course for you right now is to
focus internally. Heal the wounds within you and that will lead to the
spiritual understanding you seek. This will mean exploring unknown
territory. Try some new methods of self-examination, especially
modalities that help to change negative self-talk. You will have to face
your fears to move forward, but you will be most successful if you see
this as a time of adventure and growth rather than something painful and
difficult. You must focus inward now, but later this will lead to better
decision-making and a clearer mind.
EVERYTHING IS EERIE!
Say what you will about Tarot readers: Ananda is the real deal! Everything she wrote mirrors what the playing card reader told me (with one exception: Ananda told me people would want to hear my story and offer support, whereas the playing card reader told me people would only want to be around me if I maintained a positive attitude and didn’t discuss negative things–which I find to be true). While it is no secret I am troubled (I really put it out there), my renewed interest in green witchcraft has been a secret until now. I feel cautiously optimistic about the future.
Here is what I want out of life:
1) I want to travel. When I was growing up, I traveled every year, and I miss it.
2) I want to write for a living.
3) I want to be appreciated. I want people to see that I am intelligent. I want my opinion to matter. I want someone to think I’m pretty.
4) I want a group of close friends.
5) I want to participate in a book club (where my opinion is welcome and appreciated).
6) I want to exercise. To eat well.
7) I want to keep a clean house, full of cool stuff. I want to maintain my garden, even if I feel depressed.
8) I want to vlog/blog about geeky things (once again, to an audience that appreciates me).
9) I want to be famous, but if enough people like me, I can live without traditional fame.
10) I don’t want to be seen as negative, stupid, disgusting, lazy, fat, ugly, unpleasant, a terrible writer, etc.
This list is telling. I just want people to like me. Unfortunately, few people do. Perhaps it is my fault. I am a fan of inviting discussion with a Devil’s Advocate argument, and I was recently dismissed as “lazy, fat, disgusting, and stupid” in one such discussion. I was told “people like [me] ruin the good things in life for everyone else.” All because I had read a piece about why organic farmers should like genetically-modified seeds. I found the piece interesting, as it was written by a respected scientist, who presented his argument in an intelligent way. I posted the article on my Facebook page, not because I agree genetically-modified seeds are a good thing, but instead because I want to hear well-informed opinions about why they are a bad thing. Let me tell you, there are a lot of uninformed people out there, whose only argument against genetically-modified seeds is this: people like me are fat. I have read convincing reports that tell me GMOs are a bad thing, yet not even one person has cited this data when asked why they are against GMOs. I am left with the impression they have no real idea why GMOs are bad. Sometimes, even seemingly informed people are ignorant, you see. The article in question did make one point I agree with: we are running out of water. GMO seeds, which do not require much water, are not a good solution in the event we experience widespread water shortages (and we will), but we should focus on ways to conserve water and to ensure we will always have a supply of food. Resorting to personal attacks and pettiness in a debate isn’t going to save the planet and the human race.
The same goes for the healthcare debate. I was dismissed as “showing very little intelligence” by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, simply because I said that, if we do not fight mandatory car insurance, why do we fight mandatory health insurance? Car insurance protects our vehicles and ourselves. Health insurance protects another kind of vehicle: the human body. His argument: he “chooses” to drive a car, yet health insurance is a product he does not choose–one that is “forced” on him. We do not choose life, yet we are here. Why not protect our lives? I agree the insurance system is flawed. I would prefer a tax-based universal healthcare system, like the one in place in many other countries, but I believe the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction. Why am I dismissed as unintelligent? Because I see that mandatory insurance is well-intentioned?
Perhaps I am just as intolerant as the people who don’t “get me”/understand my debate style. Perhaps I shouldn’t debate with anyone at all. However, in my heart of hearts, I worry I truly am nothing more than a dumb fat ass. I have been dismissed as such my entire life. Every month, at least three people tell me I am negative–that I bring this pain upon myself. Most people who interact with me on Facebook nowadays do so in order to tell me I’m an emotional, irrational woman and a disgusting fat ass. My own brother described fat women who dress in sexy clothing as “cottage cheese stuffed in a balloon,” and he couldn’t understand why I would defend such women. When I bring up the fact I was bullied in school, there are people who tell me it never happened. I remember: I was “lard ass,” “Lapissa,” “retard.”
I don’t want to be negative, but how do I change? (And is it really all my fault?)
So, here is what I do:
1) I don’t write for a living. I know people who freelance and who are successful working writers. I want to pitch articles to publications I read, but if I am rejected there as well, I will have to consider the possibility I’m a talentless hack.
2) I don’t have many friends. I avoid social situations, because again, I have alienated so many people online, I don’t want to experience the immediacy of it in real life. (For this reason, residencies at Pacific University give me more anxiety than they should.)
3) I feel sorry for myself instead of adhering to an exercise regime and eating well. I sleep a lot. Some of it is the result of depression, but in the words of everyone who ever told me to snap out of it, I probably don’t try hard enough. (It should be noted that telling someone with depression to “snap out of it” is really quite heartless… though hurt feelings are still no excuse for not adhering to an exercise regime and not eating well.)
4) I’m afraid to offer my opinions on GoodReads. Case in point: I love Vaginal Fantasy. Its GoodReads forum seems like a cool place, populated with intelligent, articulate folks who read fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal romance, but I’d rather imagine what it would be like to interact with people than to actually go for it. (Because again, if my Facebook discussions are any indication, people are either going to think I’m unpleasant, or they’re going to tell me I’m an idiot. Woe. Just call me Eeyore.)
5) I don’t clean my house, and I neglect my beautiful garden. Everything is hidden away in closets or drawers, and my garden, which I once lovingly tended, becomes more wild and neglected the more depressed I feel. Again, I want to blame my depression, but as many people have said, the problem is me. I can’t even fully articulate how sad I feel when I look at how much I’ve let my garden go, yet I don’t do anything about it. (There might be some kind of metaphoric message here.)
6) People say I have a persecution complex, and perhaps I do. I certainly do feel like nobody likes me… but that is because most people don’t. Again, I don’t know what to do about that.
7) I seldom blog, and the one time I had a vlog, somebody made fun of my voice and said some unkind things. Granted, it wasn’t a vlog about geeky things, but since my opinion doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, why bother?
8) PERSECUTION COMPLEX.
9) I do work on Rose Red Review, so I’m not a total waste of space.
10) I daydream of a better life. Constantly.
I want to change, but in truth, I can’t imagine a world wherein I am appreciated and I have a lot of friends. Most people don’t like me, and I don’t know how to make myself likable. I feel broken.
I dreamt there was a huge earthquake near L.A. I was on the beach at the time, with my roommate. As the earthquake occurred, I thought about the poem I wrote about a month after I left L.A. (“and I said, / ‘At least I won’t be on the beach / during a quake.'”)–the one I wrote the night before a small quake occurred, the epicenter directly beneath my old apartment in Pomona. The water whooshed backward, and I told my roommate we had to run to our hotel and get “to the second floor, at least.” Once inside, I decided to rescue our cats. They were on the 18th floor. I ran up the stairs, with a container of cat litter. I had to find different stairwells to take, because there was a lot of damage. I helped a few people along the way (one girl’s name was “Denver”), and then hotel waitstaff helped me access secret stairwells (but not without making a snide remark about how good it must feel “to get [my] exercise in”). Everything was white and looked very art gallery, despite the damage and burst pipes. When I reached the 18th floor, I had to walk up an Escher-like stairwell (with 80s pink carpeting). “18l” and “18rn” were written on a sign. I had to cross a ballroom/lounge area to reach a glass door leading to the rooms. Someone was having a 30th birthday party, and I thought, “I’m 36–no, 33–but I remember 30!” The carpet here looked like the carpeting in an 80s bowling alley (bright colors, confetti-like). Someone asked me what was wrong, and I distinctly felt as though the party was for “Denver.” I couldn’t see any damage. On the glass door, “80th Floor.”
Very strange. My brain apparently likes numbers.
I can’t recall the exact night I dreamt this dream, but I know I dreamt it before the flooding began in Colorado. Very spooky/unsettling.
I stood in a room with a floor-to-ceiling glass window. There was a blue couch. Someone had warned everyone to avoid going outside, as the water level of a nearby river had begun to rise. The water swirled against the window. I sat backward on the couch and rested my body against the cushions, in order to watch the river. It looked like a tropical marsh river. I saw sawgrass. I thought I was safe, but then I realized there wasn’t a window. I toppled into the river. I felt its force. I clawed at the back of the couch and finally managed to pull myself into the room. The couch acted as a dam, though water didn’t spill over the couch as the river rose above it. There seemed to be a sort of forcefield in place.
I understand many of the reader complaints about poetry: it’s inaccessible (language poetry), rhyming poetry sounds saccharine, the poetic form is dying, etc. What I can’t understand is the most common complaint voiced by poets: that the self has no place in poetry.
The general consensus between poets is that any poet who writes about the self is inexperienced or, worse, a narcissist. The speaker (or narrator) should not reflect the self (the poet). He or she should exist separate from the self, even if the speaker does reflect the self. If it sounds confusing, it’s because IT IS CONFUSING.
Simply put, an “accomplished” poet will describe a sunset through his or her persona. A reader is then supposed to insert himself or herself into the poem and identify with the speaker’s experience. He or she is supposed to become the speaker. In the same way a teenage girl is meant to fall in love with Edward from Twilight, a reader is meant to appreciate the sunset in a poem. Weird, huh?
I have to wonder: why can’t a poet embrace the immediacy of his or her own experience? A reader can identify with a poet’s experience; after all, most people who read poetry do so in order to feel moved by another individual’s perspective. In placing so much emphasis on the speaker as Everyman, the speaker becomes like Bella, the brown-haired, brown-eyed Everywoman. Do these poets truly not realize they’re writing a kind of Mary Sue?
It is never a good idea to get hung up on “the rules” of poetry. To quote Marvin Bell: “Learn the rules. Break the rules. Make new rules. Break those rules.”
“And we will never be alone again…”
“Something so worthless
serves a purpose…”
“Baby, did you forget to take your meds?”
I’m too tired for this shit. I took a shower three hours ago, and my hair is still wrapped in a towel. I want nothing more than to either stare at sunbeams on the wall, or to watch the Anna Nicole biopic (Martin Landau, you’re breaking my heart!). I’ve felt sleepy and depressed all week. Now I know why: my Spidey sense was tingling. Snark is coming. (Get it? Snark? Stark? Winter is comin–oh, whatever, I’ve already told you I’m tired! NOBODY SAID I HAD TO MAKE SENSE.)
So, here I am, my pink bed sheet draped around me, toga-style. I am goddess of Editorial Despair. I don’t know why I even bother to check the e-mail account for Rose Red Review. Someone is always upset with me.
Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, and I understand all too well a rejection letter can feel like a personal attack. For this reason, I have composed a brief, yet encouraging, form rejection letter:
Although I enjoyed your work, I regret it does not reflect my vision for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review. Please know this decision does not reflect the quality of your submission in any way! I would love to see more of your work in the future. I encourage you to submit again during the next reading period, which will begin October 1st, 2013.
Rose Red Review
Alas, I still manage to ruffle some feathers. Case in point:
Thank you for your message. I just read the poems in your current issue, and I am thoroughly unimpressed. This is not to say that I believe my poetry is better. However, I fear I am out of touch with what other poetry writers (because, per Emerson’s definition, I have rarely observed the work of a true “poet”) consider to be worthwhile. All poetry now seems to be free verse, but a type of it that does not even begin to approach Whitman’s caliber. I believe poetry has become a lost art, although there are more writers of poetry than ever before. I think it is rare for such poetry writers as you have featured on your site (no offense intended, only honest concern here) to entertain anyone other than themselves or their fellow poetry writers. Writing poetically about something and chopping it up into lines, in my opinion, should not necessarily be considered poetry. Where is the skill? Where is the talent? Where is the mastery of language, meter, rhyme, or rhythm? Almost all contemporary poetry I have encountered consists of emotionalism without feeling, narcissism without introspection. It bores me at best, and nauseates me at worst. The poem “Dollhouse” is particularly mundane and pretentious. There seems to be no reason behind its scattered appearance. The motivation for this piece is certainly valid, and it most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme. But there is nothing about it, save its format, that is reminiscent of a poem. If there are no standards for what poetry is, then how can its quality be measured?
be a poem;
an inquiry into
the nature of poetry?
Are there no
Just because this
Or are we as a society simply brainwashed into believing that similarity is congruence? A McDonald’s sandwich certainly resembles a hamburger, but are the two actually comparable? Government resembles leadership, but are we as much led as we are driven, as sheep to the fleecing line?
I appreciate your site and the service it offers. Please try not to take my letter personally, or be offended. I simply needed to get these questions off my chest. I hope you will sincerely consider my position on the matter, and wonder for yourself if there has been a drastic lowering of the bar.
That is some “grade A” snark right there! Never has anyone insulted my taste so well. I especially love the condescending way the writer implores me to not take offense (after he has clearly taken offense).
I debated sending a private reply. However, I think it is important for writers to consider the way they approach editors and other writers. Such snarky responses have, unfortunately, become commonplace. In the world of online publishing, the editor is seldom respected. Other writers are seldom respected. In sharing this letter, I might seem immature and unprofessional, but in such extreme cases, I believe a lack of respect should be called out and discussed. Is it okay for a writer to respond to a rejection letter in this way? Would this writer have torn apart my publication if I were the editor of Prairie Schooner? Further, if this writer had never even read Rose Red Review, why did he submit his work for my consideration?
I question his “position on [this] matter,” because it seems he expected me to fall on my knees and worship him after reading his work. When I did not, he chose to attack my taste and the work of the writers I publish. If I had selected his work, would he have changed his “position?”
And what position is that, exactly? That contemporary poetry nauseates him? I ask again: why, then, did he chose to submit to a contemporary journal, and a niche one at that? His work does not revolve around fairy tales or folk tales. His work does strike me as particularly old-fashioned, but I admire it for its rhythmic quality. The poems have a nice cadence when read aloud. I rejected his submission only because the upcoming issue is a themed (Halloween) issue.
A good editor will overlook an author’s bad behavior when it comes to the work itself. If this writer were to submit again, I would consider his work for a future issue. While his style is not to my taste, I know other people will like it. I certainly do not select work I feel will appeal only to a select audience. Although Rose Red Review is a niche publication, I accept a variety of styles. I want people to read the publication. It seems I have succeeded: Rose Red Review has become exceedingly popular. It isn’t a vanity project.
I thought I was prepared to run my own publication. From 2003 to 2004, I edited P’an Ku, Broward College’s literary magazine. In 2006, I interned at New Orleans Review. I have some experience as an editor, but not as much as I thought. Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot more about the industry–and about myself. Editing isn’t about awards or acclaim. It’s about gathering tales and sharing them. I like to think of myself as a witch woman in the woods, collecting old mountain songs. On some level, everyone enjoys a good folk tale or a ghost story. It’s in our blood.
Certain writers possess two faces: a post-acceptance face, and a post-rejection face. (The “submission” face is a poker face: neutral. Unreadable.) This writer isn’t the first person to attack my taste. Far too many writers are convinced of their own genius. The writer in question dismisses “Dollhouses” as pretentious, yet his response is dripping with self-importance. “Dollhouses” is a wonderful “in-the-moment” poem I selected as the closing note to the Summer 2013 issue. I think it works well, especially given its last line:
The best thing
is the ability
of the day.
If the writer is so unimpressed with Rose Red Review, why does my rejection letter upset him? It’s simple: for two-faced writers, the work is about them. He describes the contemporary poem as “narcissism, without introspection,” even though he is a narcissist. I’ve wounded his ego. He has chosen to retaliate by attacking Rose Red Review and its published poets. I never like knowing someone is hurt by rejection, but neither do I like encountering people who are what they rail against.
So, what is poetry? The writer in question’s complaint about line breaks is a common one. I think it is a valid point that what looks like poetry isn’t necessarily poetry; however, I believe poetry is about musicality and vivid imagery. If a piece possesses a rhythmic quality and strong images, I don’t care if you break the lines on my face: it’s poetry. Why quibble over how something looks? (Function, over appearance.) I would say his inquiry into poetry is poetry: if read aloud, and read well, a listener will absorb the words and ponder the question. Poetry is about movement and sound. A slice of life. A snapshot. The moment. A song is poetry. A speech is poetry. Breath is poetry. Rustling is poetry. The determined pad of cat paws on carpet is poetry. A good poet is a conductor: the way we perceive the world travels through our words. The writer in question attacks a poem’s scattered appearance, yet states “[the poem] most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme.” So, what is the problem? It seems to me it simply isn’t to his taste.
After I rejected his work, the writer in question decided he wanted to hurt me, by attacking his fellow writers. These writers clearly mean little to him, as he believes they lack his skill (he claims he does not believe his poetry is any better than theirs, but it’s obvious he does). I cannot condone this sort of behavior, but is it justified? I suspect the writer in question is unaccustomed to rejection. The poems I publish are poems. His poems are poems. His poems weren’t right for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review, but never would I dismiss his work because it does not fit a theme or is not to my taste. I am neither brainwashed, nor mistaken in my definition of poetry. It’s just like, my opinion, man.
And so, dear, angry writer, please try not to take my final thought personally, or be offended: if you do not consider the work of contemporary poets worthwhile, you can always continue to write for yourself–in private.
Drunk in Rio
“Baby, stay a while.
I just want to watch you breathe.”
20 Years in the Dakota
“They want to burn the witches inside us.”
What a strange, unsettling dream:
I died. I can’t remember how. After lingering in a brightly-lit Edwardian mansion (that had been modernized, with stainless steel appliances), I returned to my body, yet I remained in limbo. The house changed: in some rooms, I was in California; in others, my childhood home. I suspect two dreams bled into one another.
Being a ghost wasn’t so bad. I could still talk to everyone. I decided to return to my body, because I wanted to help someone I’ve since forgotten (I think it might have been Frances Bean Cobain, but that is odd). Once inside my body, one thought consumed me: beating the clock. I worried I would run out of time before I began to decompose. When I looked at myself in the mirror (I often look at my reflection in dreams, even though it’s “dangerous”/reveals “the true self;” I’M A REBEL!), my cheeks seemed sunken–my flesh, a bit yellow. I thought I looked bloated. When I left the bathroom (the master bathroom from my childhood home), my parents were waiting for me.
Mommy, I’m rotting.
“I know,” my mom said.
“No, you’re not! You look the same way you did before you died. No one will know the difference,” my dad said.
I’m sure the dream is a metaphor for my body image issues, but it scared me. I thought I could smell myself. Perhaps my subconscious is simply telling me to take a shower?
“And I warned them:
‘Embrace the storm and the night.’
What do the waves have to say now?”
Take You on a Cruise
“The sea will crowd us with lovers at night….
(I see that you’ve come to resist me….)
White goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea,
you treat me right.”
“Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t, I’m a fool, you see.
No one knows this more than me.”
“The waiting drove me mad.
You’re finally here and I’m a mess.”
I found this amazing painting during my internet-questing and decided to share it.
It’s very Beauty and the Beast.
Of all the poems I’ve written, only one line remains etched into my brain: “I smell river in the woodwork.” My Loyola classmates and I laughed at that line in workshop. (The river didn’t even flood the city!) Still, I remember the way rotting shotgun houses smell, and they don’t smell like mold. They smell like river in the woodwork.
Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing
The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.
The bold lines bring post-Katrina New Orleans to mind.
Take to the Sky
“My father says, ‘You ain’t makin’ any money.’
My doctor says, ‘You just took it to the limit.’
And here I stand, with this sword in my hand…”
“Still a little bit of your song in my ear.
Still a little bit of your words I long to hear…”
And after that I would wake up alone at night, sit straight up in bed sweating, with his voice pounding all through me. All day I felt feverish and wounded.
It got kind of sick. I’ve never wanted anyone that much. But it won’t happen again, I tell myself. He’s as fucked up as I am. Can you imagine the two of us together? Fucking each other up.
But when I see him or hear his voice, even on the tape he gave me, I can’t think clearly. I try to understand how I could feel like this, even after a year. A psychic I went to said “soul mates.” Jacaranda once said “sex,” and then, when it didn’t stop–“voodoo.” But I think it’s what happens when he sings. He touches something–the dream place. The land before it was poisoned. There are untainted fish, unbroken birds, clouds without toxins. Dancing palm trees. Choruses of stargazers. His voice like a god with a lyre carrying us up from the dark tunnel to the edge of the meadow. To the edge of the water. To the edge of the moon.
I try to do that too, but I always feel strangled.
If I could be like Joni filling empty rooms with Wurlitzers and silver, baths of blue roses; scream like Patti with the horses rampaging through her veins; like Sinead with her orbit-blue eyes and perfect skull, bringing the elf-lover back from the dead and burying the demon-mother deeper down. I wish I could wear mercury like Polly Jean–landing on the stage from outer space, moving my hands, a cosmic marionette–and make you feel my voice reverberating deep in your pelvis, making you dance, circling your throat like a rosary of tear-shaped beads to press on the glands, to make you weep.
— From “Orpheus,” a short story by Francesca Lia Block
You can tell this woman is a witch, because her ankles are showing. (The brazen hussy! Only a witch would flaunt her ankles.) Even the cat is shocked… but the bat is like, “Hey now!” (Dracula, I presume?)
This is how you live when you have a cold heart.
As I do: in shadows, trailing over cool rock,
under the great maple trees.
The sun hardly touches me.
Sometimes I see it in early spring, rising very far away.
Then leaves grow over it, completely hiding it. I feel it
glinting through the leaves, erratic,
like someone hitting the side of a glass with a metal spoon.
Living things don’t all require
light in the same degree. Some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.
But you know this already.
You and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.
“If only I could fill my heart with love…”
I see it is with you as with the birches:
I am not to speak to you
in the personal way. Much
has passed between us. Or
was it always only
on the one side? I am
at fault, at fault, I asked you
to be human–I am no needier
than other people. But the absence
of all feeling, of the least
concern for me–I might as well go on
addressing the birches,
as in my former life: let them
do their worst, let them
bury me with the Romantics,
their pointed yellow leaves
falling and covering me.
I dreamt I said “ROFL” in real life:
Passing Stranger: “Did you just say ‘waffle?'”
Me: “No, I said ‘ROFL,’ like ‘roffle.'”
Passing Stranger: “It sounds like ‘waffle.'”
Me: “I guess it does!”
I can’t remember how this came about, but it makes me giggle: