Category Archives: writing

My First Book’s Coming Out. Cue Panic?

OYHH Front CoverMy first book releases March 31st. This isn’t the post I thought I’d write about such an occasion, but then– this isn’t the book I thought I’d write, either. 
Here’s a confession. Publishing this book is easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Writing it involved excavating and articulating stories, fears, and beliefs that I’d never let anywhere near my songs. Or even my own head. But over the course of a couple years, a poetic practice crept into dark corners and reported back what it found. Some of it is comprehensible. Some of it is recognizably nameless.

Some of it is photography. Michael Wilson and I have talked for years about creating a book together, and when these poems began piling up, they seemed to beg for a Wilson-ian counterpart. Perhaps less for illustration than for a haunted (and haunting) camaraderie, for a shift in conceptions of violence, of peace. For a break in the patternless pattern.

When the manuscript was complete, I was thrilled (as any writer is) to have the book accepted by a press. I signed a contract and made preparations. Logistics, aesthetics, repeat. And then the press settled on a release date. I was excited. I posted on social media. I texted my family. And then I fell into the most severe depression I’ve experienced since the illness sent me out of full-time music and into another life.

There were other factors; book-publishing doesn’t happen in isolation. Still, these poems pull on lovely, bloody threads strung from real bodies that move and feel in a real and volatile world. This isn’t to say that the book is (entirely) autobiographical, but it does expose and implicate. I don’t know how it couldn’t.

Of course, as it turns out, we keep things silent for reasons. I’ve spent the last several months tripping on mine: I’ve thrown up, cowered in bed, stopped for deep breaths while teaching, cried weirdly (and not soundlessly) in public spaces. I’ve berated myself for being given a great opportunity, only to cringe whenever it’s mentioned. I’ve steeled myself for congratulations, and tried to feel them in my bones. Sometimes I do.

I’m fortunate to have found support, and I’m getting steadily better. I’m more and more proud of the person behind the words in this book. I’ve begun to feel empowered by her movement from silence to conversation, or at least to nice-sounding works of word. Music-less songs.

I’m telling you this both to confess a terror and to dispel my lingering (irritating) sense of the shame of depression. This illness is, of course, less a signifier of personal weakness (or strength) than of personal intersections with chemistry, biology, time, and perhaps an uncanny, relentless sense of the possible. Perhaps none of these. Ideally, one simply learns over time to better live with depression—to move her body through the thick space of it. She learns to feel the shape of it in her mouth, and say it.

I’m also telling you this because, for the past several years, I’ve made my life’s work about the movement of silenced stories into public discourse. I’ve spoken urgently about the negative health impacts of individual and collective repression, about the necessity of the arts in helping us tell our stories. But if I needed a reminder that silences are bulwarks, safehouses, that they often serve vital, bone-deep purposes, this book has been mine. I’m re-learning the sense of fragility that often precedes the powerful ownership of one’s history; the fluctuating, feverish means by which secrets become strengths. I’ve questioned again whether it’s worth it.

I believe that it is.

 …The only recourse / is to name one’s self, and hold the margins / wide enough to walk in.

//

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Dear God. If in the End

Dear God. If in the End

we had no internet
no hot water in the kettle
no books riddled with notes
or bedclothes yellowed by the lamplight

If in the end you were as close to me as I am
to knowing every star,
marking each with naked eye,
reciting cinematic names and vectors

If in the end I’d hauled the wood
you burned for every prostitute
or preacher, every wandering soul
a minstrel in our bed

If in the end my body spelled
the only name that mattered,
and you wouldn’t read it, would not see
your sign in limbs and skin

If in the end our days fell impotent
and soft, no clam’ring mess
in back of us, only a sliding –
only a mouth open, a swallow

I’d curl myself around you
my chin between your shoulder blades,
a pressing: navel, buttocks
thigh to thigh and arm to arm,

a smell of static disavowal
soaking through my robe like ink
and I would say, I love you, love you
washed out, paling into pink.

 

 

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you’re not that busy.

just omg so busyMeet the Busy Brag: social media’s hate-worthiest addition to the human experience. I am important, cry the crafted tweets and updates,

because busy. Did you guys happen to notice I’m busy? If not, here are some pics about my busy. It’s a good thing you’re not as busy as I am, or you’d miss my social media updates re: busy. I won’t see YOUR pics or posts, because busy. In demand. Hashtag overwhelm. Hashtag cost of success.”

…From my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, in which I punch the busy-brag in the face.

Because human busyness ≠ human value.


For centuries, artists have asked, explored, and hypothesized about what gives life value. When creatives give in to the notion that we’re essential and significant primarily when busy, we answer the question before we can ask it. In the process, we defy the humanistic ideals at the root our artistic efforts.

You’re not that busy. (AND you’re valuable.)

(*gasp*)

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Creativity: Neither Magic Nor Madness

Nothing like telling the entire world about one’s clinical depression to enliven a Tuesday.

Here’s my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, in which I own up to the depression that yanked me out of music-touring
and in which I punch the Mental-Illness-Makes-Better-Artists myth in the throat.

Regardless of whether you’ve suffered from mental illness, there are things we can all learn from the popular myth that “madness”—or at least some kind of untamable magic—begets creativity. By owning up to our reliance on Magical-Muse thinking, we empower ourselves and each other to make more and better work. And to be healthy while we’re at it.”

The choice may not be between “madness” and dullness, but between passive and active engagement. Here are 5 ways to kick your magic-thinking habit, and get to work.

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Waiting for a job? grad school? publishing deal? Here’s HOW TO WAIT BETTER:

WAITINGMy latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine is a bit of a confession:

I SUCK AT WAITING. And so do many other writers and artists. We hover over email inboxes, trying to survive the feeling of teetering on someone else’s whim. Thus:

Hey Writers: Four Steps to Better Waiting

Check it out, leave a comment. Tell me what you’re making.

Whatever you’re waiting on, you can wait better.

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(Want)

That barking
is the smack of one flap of give-a-fuck
against the other. At the corner
of the sternum. Also the shaking of limbs,
of hands on the steering wheel.
Is the pulse normal. Is the sweat.
Is the exhale hard down into pelvis,
like a push against the flailing.
I’m not asking. That barking
is the sound of wanting sound,
how intricately-imagined the motion
of lips, of tongue and teeth
to form the words that don’t come.
Gestating long past hymn and dust.
That, my dear, that barking
is the chill of stomach sucking
in against investigation. Shaping
itself a bowl for questions.
The smack of eyelash against cheek
blinking them back.

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What Writers Can Glean from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Writing MoralsIn my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, I summarize the Crazy response to The Wolf of Wall Street, and tackle the Good that might come from ethically-precarious art.
An excerpt:

Criticisms of The Wolf of Wall Street both devalue viewers—by assuming they can handle only moralistic tales—and esteem them, by providing immediate evidence of their astonishing critical thinking skills. The film’s critics affirm the necessity of moral-ethical conversations while simultaneously proving we’re capable of having them. This irony is ridiculous.

It’s also empowering.

Snag some motivation to “go write your way into controversy”…

Check it out and comment at the original post here.

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Poetry read over Pop Music: YES.

Confession: I’m utterly delighted by these poems read over pop music:

Click the forward arrow above for more greatness:
track 1 frank o’hara & drake
track 2 alice notley & justin timberlake
track 3 dana ward & katy perry
track 4 dylan thomas & miley cyrus
track 5 william carlos williams & wale/miguel
track 6 dorothea lasky & raekwon
track 7 richard brautigan & mariah carey
track 8 sylvia plath & eminem/rihanna
track 9 ted berrigan & kendrick lamar

These tracks hark to my piece for Ploughshares re: what poetry can learn from pop music …

More importantly, they convey the irresistible depth that music lends to words. And the subtle enacting here of social critique combined with direct musical utility and appreciation is stunning.

Coming from a career as a songwriter, whatever tensions that exist among poetry, social commentary, and pop music have only been lively and generative.

So poets — and writers of all genres (because why not get crazy here) —
Music does a thing. Go experiment with it.

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(In which Rilke nails December. And depression.)

It’s been a dark December. I mean this metaphorically, although (oh god) it’s raining again. It’s the kind of December to which one should invite Rilke, post haste.

Particularly since, 100 years ago, Rilke was having a rather dark December himself. So for you fellow depressives, grievers, broken folk… from Melville House, this today:

Rainer Maria Rilke is in a bad way during those last December days [of 1913] in Paris. He writes: “I see nobody, it has been freezing, there was black ice, it’s raining, it’s dripping—this is winter, always three days of each. I have truly had my fill of Paris, it is a place of damnation.” And then: “Here is the incarnation of my desires for 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 etc. Which is: peace, and to be in the country with a sisterly person.” He then writes to one of those sisterly people… Sidonie Nádherny: “Now I would like to be as if without a face, a rolled-up hedgehog that only opens up in the ditch in the evening and cautiously comes up and holds its grey snout up at the stars.”

Yes. Yes.

Want more? I recommend this translation of  The Book of Hours, in which Rilke loves himself some Dark. Worth your December attention.

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The whole duck thing

Seriously kids omg I can’t take it anymore.

“Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that one is entitled to a job in perpetuity in spite of incendiary statements.” (-Daniel D’Addario)

Also,
From a writer who’s all about breaking silences: If you’re interested in honest, compassionate dialogue, do it be it start it. Un-firing a character won’t do it for you. Besides, few of us are likely prepared to argue that Duck Dynasty is an appropriate or effective forum for compassionate, rational, researched and well-represented dialogue. If this issue is bigger than a character’s suspension from a show that I hope I never see, then do the work to make it bigger. You. Because seriously I can only un-follow so many people on facebook & the blogs before my fingers start hurting.

(PS I still love you DD fans.)

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