Flourishing

"if they woke at their wake
they might not recognize that woman
in the front making all that noise."

-from “waiting on you to die so I can be myself”, Danez Smith.

For so many years, I’ve figuratively tossed and turned the idea of displaying my authentic self to the public. For too long, I have feared what people would think of me. During my childhood, I was raised to be a people-pleaser. Any time I showed my real self, I was shunned, teased, laughed at, or stifled.

As I grew older, I found partners who I changed myself for, whether it was the metalhead who liked it when I spiked my pixie cut with gel and wore black boots with mini skirts or the stoner who didn’t care what I wore as long as I smoked a joint with him and wore the hemp chokers he made me.

A few years ago, I met someone who encouraged me to be the realest version of myself. He told me what he saw in me and encouraged me to chase that idealized version of myself – the artist with paint on her hands and lyrics on her soul, the girl with eyes bright and sparkling. He encouraged all aspects of me: my screaming emotions, my fiery passions, poet, artist, tarot card reader, whoever I wanted to be.

He taught me to accept myself. To treat myself like I treat my best friends. “To delight the dreamers when they see you,” he had said.

I have learned about surrounding yourself with people who love the authentic you. That’s how you will be successful, regardless of what’s in your bank account or what’s written on your resume.

I mentioned on social media that I have a new outlook. I am no longer waiting on others to die so I can be myself. I’m ready to flourish. I’m ready to be my favorite version of myself.

Hiatus

I have taken some time away from writing to go on a small vacation. I traveled about fourteen hours from home to get to the Atlantic Ocean. I immersed myself in healing and relaxation. I didn’t think about my novels, my chapbooks, or any of my writing projects.

I watched the sun rise, smelled the brine of the ocean, and threw myself in the world if vacation. It was a much-needed break from everything. The day before I left, I had a two-hour phone call with my brother.

He and I discussed many things, and even without using the language I have been with my therapist (flourishing vs. languishing), he told me if I made the decision that my head and heart knew were right, I’d flourish. I would discover myself more deeply. My art would improve. My writing would be less timid. I would begin a life that didn’t revolve around seeking approval and apologizing for my existence. The bonds of shame would shatter.

Simply put, my life would become my own again.

This is exactly what I have been desiring. I had an opportunity to start fresh. I told myself I wouldn’t look at my writing until I was home. Okay, so on that part, I fibbed a little, but I am refreshed and looking at things with new eyes.

Thus, the hiatus – but I’m back and ready to pierce a vein and watch calligraphy spill on the page.

PS: The publisher who is releasing my chapbook announced me as one of their poets!

Gasoline: a Poem

The sins of my past tasted like cigarette smoke
and drinking my depravities straight from the bottle.

My broken bones always set
and the lacerations rarely left a scar,

but your words burn through layers of skin.

I never contemplated my future
until my skull hit the floor after
the guillotine slammed shut.

(I wonder if hindsight is 20/20
when you have less than stellar vision.)

I’m the greatest self-saboteur you’ll meet,
but even before he doused his kisses in gasoline,
I was busy learning how to tape together scorched pages
of a survival guide.

(If a metaphor was ever to be scrawled on my skin,
it’d be written in indelible ink,
the tattoo needle vibrating like a lullaby hum

None of this fountain pen sketching,
drawing ink from a piston.)

I have seen the skies ablaze with fire
because his love was arson
(a torching incineration)
and I was the love he poured gasoline over.

New Beginnings: Part IV

Part IV of New Beginnings, as requested by one of my readers. You can find Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.


He offered me a sheepish smile. “Sorry about earlier. You know, the pissy attitude and all.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Guess this whole trip is eating away at me more than I expected. First-time traveler and all.”

“Oh yeah?” I grinned back. “Not a veteran of long bus trips up North?”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Not a veteran of any trips. Haven’t left town since we moved here back when I was three.” A distant look crossed his face, then he stuck out his hand. “Anyway, I’m Eric.”

I glanced down at his hand and shook it. “Nixie,” I introduced myself.

“Nixie?” he echoed, raising an eyebrow. “As in, Nikki? Nicole?”

I corrected him. “Nixie. It’s a name most people get wrong. Nixie, as in, Phoenix.”

“Rad,” he replied, “you reinventing yourself?”

I wrinkled my nose at him. “Rad?”

“I’m bringing it back.”

I shrugged, then slouched back on the bench. Somehow, his being eager to talk exhausted me. It was like being around a wound-up puppy when you were used to old dogs. He sat down beside me. I rummaged through my beat-up bag and yanked out my tarot cards. I did a three-card spread for myself.

He sunk into himself, humming a melody under his breath. “You hungry?” he asked, gesturing toward a food cart. “Thinking about getting a sandwich.”

I gnawed on my lower lip. Out of nowhere, my stomach gurgled. Must be hungry. “Sure, I guess.”

Eric strolled over to the food cart with a sloping sort of confidence, the nonchalance of a kid who didn’t care much about anything. It was in his walk that I realized this guy could actually be a powerful weapon to have in my arsenal.

I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I definitely wouldn’t have any friends in Montreal.

He came back, small triangular cardboard boxes in each hand. He tossed one my way. “Didn’t know what you liked, so I got you a vegetarian one. Cucumbers, mayo, sprouts, I don’t know, maybe shredded carrots or something. That cool?”

I nodded. Anything sounded good in that exact moment. My phone rumbled in my bag, vibrating against some of its contents. I ignored it, some of my old nerves reawakening as I ripped open the cardboard.

Eric shoved a mouthful of egg salad into his mouth and began asking about the cards I had pulled.

I told him what each one meant, but I didn’t tell him that I saw trouble in my future.

Correction: I saw trouble in our future.

Person Holding White and Black Book

He said, “I play an instrument, and I was in a band. The band kicked me out when they realized they’d rather shoot up than play gigs. I heard you can make a killing busking out in Canada.”

“An instrument, huh?” I replied between bites. “What do you play? The mandolin? A didgeridoo?”

Eric sighed, exasperated. “I used to play drums, but I’m not bringing those on the road, so I stuck with guitar.”

Through the glass dome ceiling, a streak of lightning split the sky and thunder shook the building. The hairs on my arm rose.

It was starting.

Here.

Now.

Already.

Person in White Long Sleeve Shirt
It was starting. Here. Now. Already.

I don’t know why I thought it would wait.

To be Continued…?

Genre

I have been struggling with coming up with an apt genre for my novel for a long time now. This has been a novel that has been on my brain for seventeen years now, and I’m finally seeing progress on. I am in the last stage of revisions before sending it off to agents, but for so long, I have debated what the genre was: slipstream, urban fantasy, magical realism, contemporary fantasy, speculative fiction. Eventually, I just gave up and decided it was its own genre: dream fiction. Imagine my delight when tonight, unexpectedly, I discovered a pair of new genres that I had not heard of that seem to fit the tone and themes of my book: dreampunk and transrealism.

According to the website “What is Dreampunk“, “dreampunk fiction often makes use of surreal imagery, esoteric symbolism, dream logic (which may not be entirely logical), dream-related technology, false/subjective realities, shamanism, and Jungian psychology.” While my debut novel doesn’t feature all of these characteristics, it displays some of them, enough so, that I feel confident enough to call it a dreampunk novel.

Transrealism, as described by this article by The Guardian, “creates a detailed and realistic depiction of American high-school life will then shatter it open..” The article further posits “through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror.”

So, I would say, based on those definitions, my debut novel (and perhaps other works-in-progress) could be described as either dreampunk or transrealism.

This is an exciting moment for me as an author to finally have narrowed down the genre of my works so that when I pitch it to agents and publishers, I can finally explain where my books will fit in on shelves at my favorite bookstores!

What is my debut novel about?

Glad you asked.


One September morning in the city of New Amhurst, Aisling McHale wakes up and discovers something strange. A necklace her dead mother had given in a nightmare has shattered through the barrier of her dreams and into the waking world. The curtain between the two realms is lifted, dragging them into war and threatening to destroy everything she knows.

Choices that will forever change her destiny confront her. Demands are made. She must salvage the last few meaningful relationships she has left or surrender to this new world of strange dreams and grotesque nightmares.

As Aisling continues to disconnect from reality and succumbs to the lure of this alternate universe, will she prevail? Will she be able to save everything she cares for or will it all perish in the hellish apocalypse her nightmares leave behind?*

*This is a working blurb, and it may be changed or revised at any time.

Spoken Word Poetry/The Corpses of Unsaid Things


“The Corpses of Unsaid Things” is live on my Instagram page. I have been toying with the idea of releasing my reading of poems; instead of merely doing a couple of video montages with an overlay of my reading, I wanted to develop the bravery of facing the camera while reading my poems.

This is my first time doing such a thing, and while I know I was extremely uncomfortable, and it is not an amazing performance, I am proud of taking this as an opportunity to attempt to face the camera (flaws, blemishes, and all) and share my words.

Usually, I cower when someone is reading my writing. It could be fiction, and I would still hide or pace when someone’s reading. I only ever had one reader I sat still for, and that was because I trusted him completely with my heart.

But now, I am so frightened about sharing my poetry as stated in “Fears and Submitting a Poem”, yet I am doing what I can to conquer that fear.

So, if I have any friends who are authors, spoken word poets, poets, public speakers, can you give me some tips? I would love to learn from y’all on how not to be afraid when reading your stuff out loud!

Thanks in advance, but also, thanks for listening!

(Also, please, let me know what you think of the poem “The Corpses of Unsaid Things”.)

Expect the Unexpected

A fellow author passed away on the 12th. I’m just finding out about his passing today. He was one of the authors who supported me as a fledgling author. He took me under his wing and taught me about the craft, interviewed me about my works-in-progress. We confided in one another about relationships, friendships, and the craft of writing.

He wrote one of the most touching tributes to his dog that a human can write. He loved his daughters and wife immensely. He was funny, caring, sweet, thoughtful, and an awesome writer. Though he had published a few pieces, he had so many more planned, and his passing was so unexpected.

His health had taken a toll in the past few years, yet he kept his positivity, sense of humor, and charm. His author tagline was, Expect the unexpected, and for many of us, his passing was unexpected. After complications from open heart surgery and chemo, he succumbed to septic shock.

I’m still reeling from this loss as he was someone who encouraged me to write when everyone in my life told me to give up.

The writing community lost a fantastic author Friday and an even better man. Rest in peace, “Jim”.

If you are interested in helping a grieving family and have the means, there has been a Gofundme page set up in his memory: https://bit.ly/3j7STpf

Fears & Submitting a Poem

For years, I have been subscribed to and watching videos of spoken word poems from a poetry publisher based out of Minnesota. Their poets never fail to make goosebumps prickle up and down my arms. Not only is it because of the language they employ and the metaphors they utilize, but the way these poets perform their poetry is nothing short of an art form. I interviewed a spoken word poet on my blog for Global Poetry Month (Poetry Spotlight on: Carlene Gist), but now, here is my opportunity to be a spoken word poet. I have read my poetry before, but spoken word poets have a different way of wielding their words. They emote their poetry. My personal favorite line from a poem I wrote is the very line I use as a headline for my social media and my blog:

Pierce a vein and watch calligraphy spill on the page.

These poets do not just spew lines like that haphazardly; no, they actually prick a vein on stage with razor-sharp words and raw emotion floods out. This is what I aspire to do with my poems: craft something raw, something that shears through emotions, and oozes the heart of what I’m feeling.

So, I am combing through my poems, trying to find the perfect one to put to video for this submission.

A couple of years ago, after my muse whispered in my ear that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, and so, I braved my fears, quieted the demons, and submitted a chapbook to Button Poetry. It wasn’t accepted, but I was proud of myself for putting myself on the chopping block like that.

I think it’s possible to get too comfortable in your comfort zone.

What do I mean by that?

If you get too comfortable, that means you aren’t doing anything that scares you, and I think it’s important to do things that scare you. Those can be the things that make you feel alive. Sometimes, being too comfortable can feel like slowly being smothered by a pillow.

So, sometimes, I like doing things to shake it up a little.

Therefore, I am challenging myself to record a poetry video and submit it to this contest…because change is scary, but not changing at all is even scarier.

Submerged: a Poem

Submerged
(but hope sparkles).
Seawater fills lungs
(but still, we glimmer).
Finding our breath,

we might fail
& our throats cake
with salt–

but still,
we shine.

Choices are our own.
We’re not destined
to sink,

though our gazes travel
to the schools of fish
with fluttering fins & sputtering gills.

Person Holding Firework

We do not relinquish control.
This life is ours.
(We grasp sparklers like rope
to save us.)

We’ll hold those glittering sticks
above water
(illumination like stars).
We can guide the way
like constellations in the north
so the others don’t end up Titanics
or other colossal ship wrecks.

We are not alone,
despite what the devils in us hiss.
There’s a Navy boat submerged,
holding its breath
like a birthday wish,
teeming with sailors.

One day,
that boat will be an empty husk.
(A skeleton with no soul
to animate it,
but today,

hope shimmers
like a firework.)

But still,
we glimmer.

But still,
we sparkle.

Woman Holding Sparkler

New Beginnings: Part III

Part III of New Beginnings, you can find New Beginnings Part I here and Part II here.


I tapped my soft box of cigarettes against my hand, more for something to do with my hands than to pack the tobacco. As I shuffled to a wall behind us, I wondered what I was doing with my life. Leaning against it, my stomach twinged. I flicked my lighter and inhaled deeply. The comfort of tobacco and cloves flooded my nostrils.

The clove was more pungent than I remembered, but maybe my senses were more heightened than usual because the gold cellophane wrapped around the box seemed to shimmer in the dull light.

I tried not to think of what I was leaving behind but to the future. The great unknown I was throwing myself into. The smell of my cigarette reminded me of the first day I had smoked.

I had cut history class and walked to a cemetery near campus. The air was crisp, cutting through my jacket then, just as it did now. I had found a sprawling tree to sit under and watched a burial a few feet away.

Vee had seen me that day. I hadn’t known her yet. We barely spoke, but we shared that cigarette like it was the last one on Earth. She had snatched my phone from my back pocket and typed her contact information. That night, when I had called her, her smoky voice sounded as though she had expected my call.

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the past five years of memories with Vee. We began dating when I was seventeen. Still a teenager and moldable. I was a lump of clay and she was the sculpting chisels and hammers.

Almost unbidden, I remembered the hell that was high school. Slouching in a chair in the guidance counselor’s office. Mrs. Reed’s heels clacking against the linoleum as she paced back and forth. The way her watery gray eyes traveled from my mother to me. Thinking of all the time I spent with Vee instead of working on my homework. All the times we snuck out and smoked in the cemetery. Mrs. Reed telling my mom that I had been cutting class. That I was reckless.

“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said, hope glittering in her eyes. Mrs. Reed who smelled like Christmas cookies had begged my mom not to let me ruin my life.

That was before the state psychiatrist and psychologist. Before the diagnoses. Before the hospital stays in psych wards.

“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said…

My relationship with Vee had endured five tumultuous years, but numbers were just numbers. 1,825 days didn’t matter unless you gave them meaning. As I smoked, I didn’t notice the guy from the bench approach me. After a minute or two lost in memories, I saw him.

I wondered how he saw me. Dyed auburn hair with black roots. Heavy eyeliner. I felt like a child actor, pretending to be an adult. He made me doubt me, and he had barely spoken two words to me.

My hands began to shake when my phone vibrated. I stubbed my cigarette against the wall and began to curse.

“Expecting a phone call?” he asked with a smirk as I stared at my cell phone, horrified. What would I tell her? What could I tell her? She probably had just finished her shift at Blackburn’s. Maybe she was already back at our apartment. I began to shake violently.

I took a drag of my cigarette and buried my phone deep in my bag. His eyes flashed. “You forget to tell someone where you’re going?” he asked, his voice a touch concerned.

“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered, “what about you? You tell your whole family and all your friends where you’re headed?”

“Hah.” He rolled his eyes. “Like Veronica cares.”

“Girlfriend?” I arched an eyebrow, watching his face.

“My mom,” he mumbled, “my friends won’t even notice. Too high to even notice if I’m in the same room or not.” He waved the idea away. “Doesn’t matter. They won’t ever think to look where I’m going.”

“Where are you going?” I asked quietly.

“Montreal.” He grinned, his dimples deepening.

I didn’t speak but thought I had just found a partner-in-crime for the trip.