The best part of NYC Poetry Festival is its location. After years of wanting to go and not understanding boats, I finally got myself on a train to take a taxi to catch a ferry to go to Governors Island. What I thought was going to be a day of simply listening to poetry turned out to be an exploration of NY history along with booths upon booths of swag and conversation.
Before anything poetry, BMc and I met up and wandered into forts called castles and forts called forts. We were able to pick up heavy things that weren’t as heavy as cannonballs. I don’t know the point of this activity, but we did it. We also found something called a playground that seemed to be a way to lure children into getting tetanus or an art installation or both. Then a park ranger told us we could walk up a cobblestone path behind some of the buildings where the boat people reside (don’t ask—I don’t know, either) and find some cannons. We walked up the path and found some cannons! Each cannon had a sign that said not to climb on them, so immediately I wanted to climb on them, but I didn’t because it was early in the day and getting kicked off the island before the poetry wasn’t a good plan.
My two main concerns aside from boats were bathrooms and food. Actually, these are my concerns for life: boats, bathrooms, and food. I’m happy to report there’s a bathroom as soon as you disembark in the building that has the art gallery. There are also bathrooms that are trailers with stalls and not singular portapotties. I’m also happy to report that food trucks is where it’s at. I have issues ordering from counters, and luckily, I found a truck that was more of a cart and I could order at eye level. The salad I got was heavenly. I also purchased a cup of water for $2, but there were two limes in it, making the purchase worth it.
The poetry was a great plan. I listened to a group called Camperdown whose readings I’ve gone to online. I also listened to a chunk of the Red Wheelbarrow Poets, a group BMc is associated with. I heard a bunch more in the background because there were three stages of poetry all day plus an open mic. Not on a stage was a fun performance at the Walt Whitman Initiative table, which was my favorite poetry of the day because it was more than being at a mic but it was poetry in yo face.
That’s also where I met in person for the first time someone I’ve known online through Walt Whitman Birthplace Association since I’ve been working with them. It makes sense that I’d meet him at a Walt Whitman booth, but to meet in a place that requires three methods of transportation is kind of funny. Then again, that seems very Whitmanian.
I also listened to Terrance Hayes and some of Deborah Landau, the two headliners for Sunday. That was the only time I felt like the entire festival quieted down.
Nine Cloud Journal and the Queens Poets – I ran into a few poets I know from Queens, met some new poets from Queens, and bought some Queens poetry.
Sarah Lawrence College – I got professorial for a bit. They have a speculative writing track, and I’m all about that.
Squidbath – Old photos plus typewriter quotes plus stitching equals magic, and I have a piece hanging on my wall in front of me as I type this.
I also ran into Sarah Kain Gutowski whose name I recognized and we had one of those conversations trying to place each other’s names and faces. She had a booth that showcased a poetry and visual art project she’s been working on, which was stellar. Then we both remembered that I’d read for her students a few years back, and that conversation turned a bit towards how Fall 2021 is going to be as nutty as this past academic year has been.
Then I found the table for the Poetry Brothel and wanted to purchase one of everything. I found my necklace by Madame Tallulah and wore it for the rest of the day.
I also bought a tiny book by Michele Rosenthal called Smaller Than Life because it made my heart happy.
My most favorite activity of the day was the Poetry Labyrinth. You take a rock with a word on it. You walk around the brick labyrinth. You sit down. You write a poem. You can keep the rock or put it back. You can keep the poem or hang it up. I want this in my backyard. If I weren’t spatially challenged, I could probably make one.
The other most favorite part were the views. Like, I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty before, but from this island, it’s brand new. I’ve sailed on the Sea Streak into the port at sunset, but it looks surreal once more from this angle. The city is enchanting with all its history and all its words.
Then I got really excited when BMc offered to drive me home, so excited that I forgotten I parked my car at the train station that morning and then couldn’t figure out where my car was until after I got into my jammies and put on my acne medication that looks like clay and then called my mom to see if she could take me to get my car and I’m 42 and you’re welcome.
I told people I’m going to stay at a cottage at Heckscher State Park, and several people responded with, Oh, camping! To which I responded, Do you know me at all? It’s a cottage. Not even a cabin. Cabin implies more woodsy. It’s a cottage—a one-bedroom, one-indoor-bathroom, living-room-kitchen-area with a screened -porch, an outdoor deck, a firepit, and a 30-second path to the beach on Nicholl Bay. This is also known as Heaven on Long Island.
Because I received the DEC grant through the Huntington Arts Council, I marked this weeklong stay as the time to get my writing done. It was also a time to not be on any social media, not talk to anyone, read a whole lot, and not think about any responsibilities (except for daily necessities like washing dishes, and now I am more grateful for my dishwasher).
The morning before heading out, I bought almost all my groceries for a week during which I was nicely scolded at the grocery store because I’d let an elderly lady who had been waiting on the adjacent line to go ahead of me. The cashier pointed out the arrows on the floor and explained how they like to keep it that way. I understand avoiding chaos, but also, no one was behind either one of us, and when I told the woman to go ahead of me, the scolding cashier was not yet done with the person checking out. I explained none of this and simply said, Okay I gotcha. Then I was feeling dumb because I had so many bags, and how could one person have so many bags, and attachment and possession are so un-Zen-like and this is why the world is a hard place.
Clearly, I needed this retreat.
After realizing that bags are necessary to carry linens and food, I got excited and off I went! I got to the park and couldn’t find where to check in, and my phone service kept cutting out. So back to being anxious, thinking I’d have to spend the week in the parking lot in my car with my too-many bags. I remembered a sign for camping and cottages I would see walking, so I went that way. I found the check-in office. The guy had heard my message and called me back but the phone service hadn’t allowed for me to get the call. He said it wasn’t my phone—the service was wonky that day around the park. Once again, excited to be there.
Finally, I got to my cottage by the sea. Very English-Moorish with wild flowers and wild plants. I unpacked and walked to the path that would take me to the beach. I stopped short and literally gasped. That first view of the water from the path, whoa.
I then went food shopping for a few extra things and returned for some more beach walking in the evening. I was the only one on the beach. Then I went inside and started to read a book as the skies grew dark. I’ll repeat, this is heaven.
Rain stormed in overnight and the morning still had a drizzle mist. I figured I would walk the path I knew so that in case rain stormed in again, I’d know how to get back. Then I got really excited on my walk, so I explored the loop path I don’t really take to the interior of the park. It’s all connected and very difficult to get lost. Even I did not get lost.
Everything soaked through because I’d been out for so long. My sock were gross. Then I couldn’t figure out the shower. I also can’t really explain it. It’s a standing shower and there are drains and there’s water that comes out of the shower onto the bathroom floor whenever I showered but not a lot of it, and I wound up showering kind of in a corner all week, but I was okay with that because it was a comfy shower with plenty of hot water. (Here I will remind y’all that I recently became a full professor). The rest of the day was misty, which wasn’t an issue since the rest of my activities were indoors—I wrote poetry and submitted poetry. Then I read some more. Beach walk at night—all by myself. I could get used to this.
Rain had stormed again, and it was still going in the morning. I wrote and edited some creative nonfiction pieces. By the time I finished that, the sun came out. Sun’s out, guns out! A bit over-zealous, forgetting that clouds went away at peak sun time and it was not the usual morning walk, I went on a mission to find the boat launch, which I could never find when walking. This mission took me onto streets and through camping (there’s actual camping in tents at the park, which I did not do because the park has indoor cottages). I found the boat launch which also has a kayak launch. Some guy was funnily cursing as he got into a kayak. Then, after what seemed to be a long production in doing so, asked, Hey how do I know when to come back? The kayak guy was like, Don’t worry if it’s a few minutes late. The other guy was like, I don’t think I’ll be late because I’m already fucking tired! Heh heh. I did see him start to paddle out, and he had a friend paddling behind him, so I think he made it out at least past the No Wake zone.
When I got back to the cottage, I downed several bottles of water. I was soaked, this time with sweat, which should not be a surprise to anyone. I also had bug bites from walking on grass. Actually, I didn’t walk. I kind of galloped across, like a high-knee combine drill, to avoid any chance of ticks. The park has signs posted about ticks maybe every twenty feet. The grass I walked across was low, but other bugs presented themselves and bit me up. Basically, I was a sweaty, itchy, fulfilled mess. I showered in the corner, wrote and edited, and then took a walk to the beach in the evening. Then my flip flops broke on the way back. I didn’t really use flip flops on the beach, so it wasn’t too much of an issue to chuck them.
Day 4: A Mini Sibling Adventure!
My brother visited, arriving on his bike at my cottage right after I’d gotten back from a park walk. I showed him the path to the beach, and he stopped short as soon as he saw the water. I know! Then he went to ride for ten miles while I did some writing. The most challenging part of his visit was figuring out which parking field was where. Even looking at a park map did not help. However, by luck or something like it, when I pulled my car around to where I thought he’d be, he appeared in a lot, waving to me. We did it! Sibling magic. We went to the beach, which we have never done together ever. We witnessed a life guard watch two people out in the water on jet skis. My brother kept wondering what he was watching for, and I guessed that it would be to see if they needed help since they were out there floating and not jetting or skiing. When the lifeguard was satisfied that no one was going to drown, he passed by us and asked if we were planning a vacation because he overheard talk of Harry Potter. He, too, is a Harry Potter fan. He said he’s 28 but loves it. I was like, Harry Potter is for everyone, and all adults are big children anyway.
The rest of the day, I edited, wrote, read, and then walked the beach. At one point in the evening, I didn’t want to go back from the beach. It was well after 7 and with sunset at 8 something, I knew I’d had to go back because there were no lights. And also, night animals. I’d seen so many bunnies and chipmunks and birds during the day, and they’re all okay, but at night? I didn’t want to know.
I left the park to visit another park. Technically, it’s an arboretum. Bayard Cutting Arboretum is five minutes away, but also ten minutes away when you cannot find the entrance. I found the entrance and then got lost in a very manicured garden. I also got caught by the massive sprinkler, which felt good because the sun was beating pretty hot. I kept running into a woman who clearly was out for a relaxing walk alone, so I slowed down my pace and eventually lost her. And got lost again. You’d think in a place where you walk along the edge of the water you can’t get lost. Think again, friends. This is me.
When I got back to the cottage, I wrote and edited for several hours. Then I was like, I need to move, so I took an afternoon stroll to the beach. This is when I learned how strong the skin on the bottom of my feet is because without my flip flops in midafternoon, the brick path scorched and the sand charred. I burrowed my feet into the wetter sand nearer to the water for my walk and then hobbled back, doing that same high-knee tire run I’d completed across the grass the day before. Later that evening, after more reading and writing, the path and sand were cool. That’s how sun works.
I left the park to visit another park. Connectquot is hard to spell and about fifteen minutes away. Quick! Guess what I’m going to say next!
If you guessed I couldn’t find the entrance, you are correct!
The entrance has a big-ass sign right off of Sunrise, yet I somehow made my way to the street next to the park and drove quite a bit, wondering if I could loop around and get in. I can never loop around, so I don’t know why I thought it would work this time. After finding the entrance, I found my way into the park. Then I couldn’t find where the paths started. I wandered down to the river where all the geese were. Then I meandered over to some buildings. Then I saw a white blaze across a tree and knew I would be on the Greenbelt! Not to be confused with the Green Trail, marked in green. Got it? Greenbelt White Green Trail Green. At some points they cross. At one point, I was on the Yellow Trail and the Greenbelt.
This is the first time I’ve ever gone into the woods alone. I went on Saturday because I knew there would be other people there. I went super early because it was another searing day. It’s my kind of hiking because a lot of the beginning runs right next to a road and at a certain point there’s no way to go except straight ahead. Also, when I pulled over to the side for some shade on a bridle path, I took a quick screenshot of the map of the park so I’d have it if my cell service went out.
I wound up on the Green Trail by accident. I knew it would cross the Greenbelt again, so I kept following the green arrows. When a bunch of horses came around a corner, I pulled over to the side again and checked the map. The horse leader called out, Are you contacting Sputnik? I answered that I was just checking to see where I was. He asked where I was headed.
I had no idea. There was no actual destination. So I said, The green trail?
He was like, I don’t know about the colors.
Neither do I, sir. Neither. Do. I.
He followed up with, If you get turned around, the visitor center is back down this path. Make a left and a right and you’re there.
I thanked him. I don’t know left or right, but it was still helpful.
I got to a bridge. I looked at the map. I knew where I was. I did a victory dance and sang out, I got to the briii—iidge, I got to the briii—iidge. Getting to the bridge meant nothing. If you’ll recall, I had no destination. However, this felt like a defining moment. I’d accomplished something, like knowing where I was on the map. I then followed the Greenbelt. The path narrowed. I knew where I was and that I could take the path to the edge of the park.
And then there was a cat. A black cat laid flat out across the path. I looked around. No one else was around. I’m aware that a cat is not a wild animal—usually—which made it even scarier because why was this cat there? I asked it out loud, Why are you here, cat? This cat was going to be the downfall of my hike? I moved forward a little, and it looked at me. I moved back a little, and it ran away, under some brush. I called out, No low brush no high grass, cat! Because that’s how you get ticks.
Also, ticks cannot jump or fly, so you get them by standing where they are and having them crawl on you. This is what high socks are for. Despite the hot temps, I’d put on long pants and high socks. The pants also acted as a signal that I am a person in the woods, not an animal to be hunted, and also a way to find me if for some reason I wound up in a place where knowing my left from my right may be helpful and not being able to figure it out.
I kept going, passing the cat, through the woods. I hiked the fuck out of that trail! Then I finished my first water. I had another frozen water, which had been melting down on the outside pocket of my backpack. I was pretty sure it was making my back and booty wet, but that didn’t matter because the swass had been thriving since I’d passed the fishery near the end of the Yellow Trail. I took a moment to eat a snack. I looked at the time and how far I’d walked. I figured if I went to the end of the park, I’d have to use my pee spout—have spout will hike—and if I did that, there was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to get my sweaty pants back up, and I’d have to hike the rest of the way back sans bottoms, which is not good for avoiding ticks (though I’d still have the high socks, so maybe it would’ve been okay.
On my way back, two runners came barreling through. One was in a sports bra and shorts. The other was in shorts and a tee. They had nothing with them. There I was with my large backpack of pee spouts and food, and there they were, trail running almost naked. Nature is a strange place.
I did a happy dance when I made it back to the fishery. There’d been a few turns where I was like, Did I go this way or that way? However, I kept looking for the blazes and the arrows, and they guided me. Also, the happy dance was for the bathroom at the fishery. I’d made a really good decision to go back when I did because I really needed to pee and I did have a hard time getting my sweaty pants back up. All my clothes were simply wet pieces of cloth by that point. No shape. No form. Just swaddling for a hiker on a hot day.
Not long after that, I found the parking lot and stretched. Then I found a CVS where I got a bottle of orange-mango Body Armor for hydration and a Key Lime Kit Kat for a reward. I also bought a pair of flip flops for $2.99. Victory after victory.
After peeling myself out of the used-to-be-clothing, I took a corner-shower and sat with my writing. When I was done with that, I organized some of my digital music library. (iTunes, my phone, and my laptop are all different, and I’m trying to make them the same). Later on, beach walk. Later on, Netflix and Hulu because I’d finished all the books I’d brought to read.
Day 7: Enjoying Every Bit One More Time
A bit of rain came down in the morning, so I started with writing. Then the sun came out. I went hiking around Heckscher, once again forgetting it was later with stronger sun, but my sunscreen works really well, so while it was hot, I didn’t burn. I went to the beach and then more writing editing writing editing. Then to the beach. Then I did some packing.
Checkout was at 10 AM. There was a huge storm the night before that woke me up because it was so loud. The morning was so calm. I finished packing. I took a walk on the beach. The water was barely lapping. It was everything. I got back inside and saw a sizeable cricket right near the doorway. I yelled at it. It started to skitter. I crushed it with my new flipflop. I had a split-second thought to scurry it outside, but its movement was not towards the door. I’d been very nice to nature the whole week, and this bug was not where it was supposed to be. I’m very happy this happened on the last day because now I can never go back there.
Upon handing over my keys, the park guy told me that next year, they are renting for only weeklong stays instead of shorter ones. I was like, that works for me because I was here for a week. He asked me how I found it. I told him, It was a fantastic week.
Life at the cottage involved sweeping every morning. I finished reading three books and put a small dent in my Netflix queue instead of adding to my list, getting overwhelmed, and shutting it off to watch reruns of Guys Grocery Games—there’s no TV and no radio. Everything I watched and listened to was completely purposeful instead of mindless. I used the wifi mostly for writing and to access workout videos every morning. I wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram all week and it made a huge difference in time and energy. To pretend I know no one and have no responsibility to anyone or anything, every day reminding me that everything I do is actually a choice, was exactly what I needed to find some peace and calm again.
I had the thought, I could live here. I’d have to install a dishwasher and maybe figure out the shower so I wouldn’t have to shower in a corner, but otherwise, it got me thinking. Then again, I just had that light switch fixed and bought new air conditioners and had them professionally installed, so I’m pretty invested in my house for the next hundred years. If I moved to the beach, I’d be worried about hurricanes every day. An occasional visit and a round of pretending seems to be enough.
A few months ago, I answered a call for reading my poetry on video for the Babylon Village Arts Council. South Bay Sundays poetry workshop had been meeting in person during the nice weather in Gardiner Park, so it was a perfect setting. After one workshop, a video guy showed up with a mic and cameras. I was all like, Wow, I thought it would be someone with an iPhone. He was like, Nope, we’ve got equipment. I did my thang, introducing myself, raving about the park, and read some poems.
One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant.
A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem.
Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to.
These silent meditation retreats are becoming my everything. They come up exactly when I need them. I get exactly what I need out of them. The universe works if you let it. This most recent one was at Kadampa Massapequa, and it was a bit shorter, from 9:30 to 1ish. I had to move my car a few times because of timing and parking, but the breaks between meditation were a good time to do that. Plus, I like to walk outside during the breaks, and I found out that that’s what people do–they walk clockwise. And that’s what I’d been doing all along at all of my retreats. Clockwise walking. I didn’t choose it. I just did it. See? The universe. Also, breaks are a good time to eat, which I did. I brought snacks. What? Did you think I wouldn’t be carrying a bag of food around with me? The best part was seeing someone there I know from yoga and hearing that she came because she read about it in my newsletter, aka my Highly Infrequent Email list. Changing lives, people! Changing lives!
When I arrived, I saw that someone had already put a jacket on my seat. Yep, my seat. I go there only once a month, and I don’t have a membership, but apparently I’ve claimed a seat. So that was a reality check, realizing that I’ve created an attachment. This moment was like the moment in the airport when S and I were flying to ATL and I moved to the side after checking our luggage and before security so I could take off my coat and I said to her, I”m realizing I have an airport routine.
Side note: Delta owes me a ginger ale. It’s not their fault. It’s turbulence’s fault. We experienced a lot of bumps on the way home so all beverage service was halted and the flight attendant threw cookies at everyone on the way to her seat. My attachment to drinking ginger ale on a flight was tested, and I got through it. Sort of. Because I still think Delta owes me a drink.
Anyway, the point here is that self-realization is a good thing and realizing attachment leads to a chance to grow and become non-attached. Which means I sat in a different seat instead of confronting the woman who put her coat on my chair. As if I’d actually confront a stranger. Or talk to one. But this was the point of the day–not talking. The seat I chose worked just as well as the other seat, and now I’m no longer attached to the chair, physically, mentally, or spiritually. (I still want that ginger ale, though).
As an about-face, the next day was very chatty. I taught two yoga classes–my regular power hour at 9 and then a sub stint for a stretch and flow at 10:15. By the by, if you’re a lady, you can join me every Sunday at 9 for dancey-yoga. If you don’t want to be out of the house that early or you’re not a lady, then you can get your yoga on in semi-private or individual sessions. Also? Reiki. I’m available, y’all! After yoga, I headed out to Sip This to write with a poet friend. It was our first time writing together, so we actually wound up chatting more than writing, but I did draft a poem about dolphins and yoga that’s been floating around in my brain, so that made me super happy. Also, there was jazz, loud jazz, which made for a really groovy coffee klatsch.
Then off to Industry in Huntington for Mostly True Things, a storytelling game. I mean, does it get any better? It’s storytelling. It’s a game. I get to listen to people tell me stories and then I have the chance to win. The last time someone told me a story was at the Rubin, and it was bedtime. This time, I was not in pajamas. The four tellers were fantastic. I saw some poets I know, so we chatted about possible truth tellers and fibbers–only one person was telling a completely true story. I was wrong in my first guesses, but when it came time to make official guesses, I got it right.
I won a tote bag!
All of this unfolded on the tail end of a President’s Week that put all previous President’s Weeks to shame:
Sunday: Yoga and South Bay Sundays Workshop–I love love love my group of writers. Some new faces appeared, and I love them as much.
Wednesday: Mr. Cheapos with my brother to sell CDs. I came home with fewer CDs. Does anyone want CDs? I also have a DVD of the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen classic New York Minute, featuring Eugene Levy.
Thursday: Writing editing cleaning cooking doing all the things one does to stay alive
Friday: Breakfast at Morning Rose Cafe with T and D. And it was delicious. And I shook and had a headache for a few hours afterwards because salt and sugar. Worth it for sure.
So a very fun week rounded out by a very fun weekend and how grateful am I to be able to live this life so fully!
Poetry needs more fog machines. There. I said it. It cannot be undone.
Sometimes I think I’m going overboard with the astronaut ice cream, but now I’ve kind of got the reputation as that poet who gives away astronaut ice cream, so really, there may not be such a thing as too kitschy, too gimmicky. Maybe wearing a space suit, but even then, maybe not.
Crossroads Talent hosts a talent showcase every second Friday of the month. I know this only because someone from that group found me on Instagram and has been asking me for months to join the show. This past month, I was free the night of the event, so I said I’d do it.
Then it dawned on me that I should probably look up the show. I found disco lights, smoke machines, step troupes, and rappers. Some soul singers and some R&B singers. More rappers. Lots of fog.
Now I have no problem being the outlier in a lineup. I was, however, left wondering why this guy had consistently asked me to be part of the show when clearly I do not do anything anyone else does. Still, I’d committed, and so I went.
Off to the American Legion! DB and EA met up with me, and what we found was what I would call the equivalent of a fun school dance. There was a drum kit and guitars set up with flashy lights and the fog maker. There were chairs flanking a blank space that would no doubt be a dance floor. There were decorations for Valentine’s Day, and that’s when I realized, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. And then there were donuts.
I don’t know how to describe the donut situation other than abundant. Just when you thought they were done putting out the donuts, there was another tray being set down. The donuts had not been on the clips I’d seen of the previous events; maybe they’d been hidden by the fog. In any case, a pleasant perk, for sure.
Everyone was so incredibly nice. Anyone involved in putting on the production kept making sure everyone felt welcome and supported. They asked the audience to crowd around the performers to show them love. Their kind of love showing and my kind of love showing are a little different because an audience five inches from a performer’s face seems more intrusive than loving, but still, most of the performers seemed to enjoy it. Some even asked for people to get closer. I stayed near my seat, but I did stand and clap and cheer. I loved how supportive everyone was of everyone else, especially for the performers who were 13, 14, and 15 years old. When I was that age, I wore mismatched oversized sweatpants and stayed in my bedroom listening to Paula Abdul and eating rice cakes while pondering all the ways I didn’t fit it in in life, so kudos to them for even stepping out into the world. I turned out pretty okay, though, because here I was, too.
The night kept going. The smoke machine kept billowing. There were some R&B singers and then a string of rappers followed by a Hawaiian dance group followed by another string of rappers. I don’t listen to rap all that much, but I do enjoy it from time to time. However, this was getting to be a lot. Also, some performers were leaving right after they performed, and I’m not a big fan of that. So after about two hours, I decided I’d had enough, and my posse of two agreed.
I took my name off the list, and one of the event planners told me he’d put me up next and I didn’t have to leave. That was really sweet, but then I’d stay even longer because I don’t leave right after performing. So I thanked him profusely, said I could come back another month, and then left.
What this group does for artists means a whole lot. There’s no place else I know of that invites people of every artistry of every age to do what they love to do for free and gives them donuts and a fog maker to boot. The world needs more of this kind of love.
Juxtaposition! Fun to say and a literary device that comes up in most of my classes. It means putting together seemingly unlike things to show how they go together in some way. Like Reference.com says a good example of juxtaposition is “Romeo’s description of Juliet in Act I, Scene 5: ‘It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/ Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.’.” I have no idea what any of that means, but let’s just say it’s helpful. Okay, I’m realizing that maybe I don’t know what juxtaposition is after all. Now’s a good time to remind everyone that I’m a teacher. Hence, the aforementioned classes. Hence, my current shame in not being able to explain the thing I constantly explain. [I’m tempted to go into a side note about APA citation, but that would turn into a tangent that probably won’t come back around to anything soon. I’ll save that for another time.]
So anyway, if you think of things that don’t seem to go together, you might say Me, Nature, and Anyone Under The Age Of Old. That means my weekend was one of juxtaposition. I spent Friday night and all of Saturday in nature with teens. Yes, I know, I’ll say it again: Me. Outdoors. Young people. I’m branching out, yall! Oh, gawd, branching out. That’s a pun! Paranomasia is the fancy word for punning. I’m a teacher!
If it seems I’m going nowhere fast with this, I concur. I’m still on a high from an incredibly delightful writers’ retreat I was invited to in Fishkill. The writers were in grades 9 – 12. The retreat was on camp grounds. The “what to bring” list included a sleeping bag and a flashlight. Ergo, the list may as well have included biggest fears. In the past few years, I’ve been liking nature more. I know, I’ve ranted about trees, but aside from trees, nature has been nice. I loved staying on the lake in Ohio. Granted, we were in a gorgeous house, but still, a lake is nature. I’ve been walking outside a whole lot. I sat on the ground when I was in yoga teacher training and we had lunch in the park. This is progress.
So I packed up my dad’s military sleeping bag, a flashlight, and a Kerouac book, and I drove up to Fishkill. I found the camp grounds. Shortly after my arrival, one of the chaperones also arrived. I got out of my car. Now that there was more than one person, a bear would have a choice.
The organizer who invited me showed up a bit later as the young writers arrived. They all had comfy blankets, big duffel bags, and smiles. We all made our way to the cabins. The teens were staying in bunks. The chaperones and I were staying a bit up the hill in a different building.
Buildings! Not tents! Buildings! This is my kind of being one with nature. Walls!
This building reminded me of college dorms. I chose a room with one bed because that’s all this gal needs. Roughing! It! And the room I chose had a moth in it that I found when I shifted the curtains. Now, I could have screamed. I could have taken my stuff and chosen a different room. I could have gotten in my car and drove home. Instead, I smushed it. Apologies to all my animal loving friends. Seriously, I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, it doesn’t belong indoors. I’m also more sorry because while I thought I’d killed it, I’d actually just maimed it, and one of the chaperones offered to come on in and finish it off for me, and I said, Sure, which meant omigod yes please god yes.
Then when I went to the bathroom, there was a daddy longlegs scurrying around. So I killed it. I know! I’m so sorry!
Side note: all this has happened since I realized I’m probably a Buddhist. Which I usually can’t spell right on the first try. My life has a lot going on right now, clearly.
Back to the bug murders. There were only two. The next day, a tiny spider crawled into my bag before I could stop it, and I just left it. I also moved a spider off my desk in class today instead of smushing it. Progress. Again, back to the campgrounds–I got a tour of the buildings we’d be using, which were the meal hall and the music building, which was gorgeous. There was a planetarium next door. Heaven! And a pond nearby. More nature to get accustomed to, but since I’d stayed on that lake in Ohio, this was pretty much the same, only with less corn and more geese.
We had dinner and played ice breaking games. We wrote a little. I did my best to memorize names. Being in a room of strangers has never been my most favorite place to be, and so I did take a few moments to warm up and feel out the vibes. All the vibes were positive, for sure, but still, social awkwardness doesn’t simply fade away because you tell it not to come along to the writing workshop. There was the juxtaposition of me, young people, and nature happening all at once, so the awkwardness was going to be a factor. That’s just who I am. And also who I am includes letting it happen and then letting it go, which I did. I sat in awe of the camaraderie of these students and teachers who had spent an entire day at school doing school things and now were bounding around with so much energy and jazz. I felt so tired but their energy lifted me.
Also lifting my spirits was the promise of s’mores that came true right after ice breakers. I mean, this is what being in nature is about–putting sugar on a stick and making a sandwich with chocolate and sweet crackers.
I went to my room after a short stint eating s’mores. Going back to my room proved to be another notch in my braving nature belt. I used my flashlight to find my way back. It was the kind of dark where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I went the wrong way at first and talked out loud to myself, instructing myself where to go and not to fall. I found my way to the right path and back to the right building. I heard all kinds of critters in the leaves, and there was a huge spider crawling up the side of the door, and I didn’t try to kill any of them. Because they were outside where they belong. But also because I didn’t feel scared of them. They were simply living, the same way I was simply living, and they weren’t trying to kill me, either. This is an example of Buddhism. (No it’s not).
Workshop day arrived! Up at 5 to meditate and yoga and then a walk outside at sunrise to the pond and back. Some of the writers were already up and about, some jogging, some writing, some doing homework. Talk about dedication. These are my people.
There was breakfast and then another walk and then, writing writing writing. My theme was spaces and places. We read some things. We wrote some things. We read and wrote some more. There was a lot of talking and sharing. There were breakout sessions and regrouping. Anything I suggested was met with such creativity and openness.
Then lunch time came. I ended the morning recapping that we’d discussed and wrote about physical and geographical spaces and places. After the break, we’d be going places in our minds. Oooh.
Upholding my promise, I started the afternoon with meditation. (Hello, Buddha). This meditation began with one mat, one body, one room. At its height, it reached out to beyond the galaxies, beyond the universe. Then we all returned home to the mind and heart. I sent them off to write what the journey had told them to write, or to do whatever their sense of self desired. This twenty minutes of doing turned into almost forty by the time everyone reconvened. Oooh, meditation. That’s what it can do.
We spent the rest of the day by the pond. At one point, a scout group came trudging around the water, some scouts with large sticks twice their size in hand. They went into the planetarium while we stayed on the dock, creating and sharing. That’s right, we stayed outside. The entire afternoon in the sun that grew hot enough to warrant a strip down; I began the day in a scarf and a coat and a blanket wrapped around me, and I ended the day with all that tossed to the side. Fireflies and spiders crept about on the wooden picnic tables. Squirrels and chipmunks skittered and scattered. Crickets chirped the entire time.
The day had been one of those blurs, ending in a circle of summing up the experience while the sun went down. Everyone headed to regroup and work on writing while I headed to the hall to write a piece that had been in my queue for almost two weeks. Then there was dinner and then I realized I had to leave if I wanted to stay awake while driving, and if I didn’t leave, I’d have to stay in nature for one more night, which actually didn’t seem so bad after all. But I prefer my own bed so I said my goodbyes, gave some hugs, and left with all the feels. Feels of pride for having been way out of my comfort zone, feels of gratitude for having met wonderful and creative people, feels of inspiration for writing and reading. What good fortune that I got to have such an experience.
Juxtaposition, in apparently my own definition, shows the difference in things while simultaneously showing how they go together in some way. I’ve learned that me and nature have a pretty good connection once I settle in. I mean, I stopped killing things after the first hour. And me and the youth? Yeah, there was some solid common ground there, too. While this retreat was for them, I totally came out of it with fresh wisdom that I couldn’t have gotten any other way and wouldn’t have it otherwise.
I was so fortunate to be asked to read for The Americas Poetry Festival of New York, a series of multilingual poetry readings and talks across several days and venues. Also, I was included in their anthology. This is a happening. This is so me.
My reading was at the Consulate of Argentina in Manhattan. Ooh, how fancy does that sound? I know,right!
In a bit of a drizzle, I made my rainy way to the Starbucks a block away from the consulate where an entire fleet of cyclists were at rest. I shared a table with a man and his helmet. Fact: he was not part of the fleet. He was a lone cyclist. I don’t understand outdoor sports done in the rain. This is why I don’t ride a bike anymore. Yep, that’s the reason.
Anyways, when the call time rolled around, I headed to the Consulate and arrived at the same time as a gentleman who came to listen. Interestingly, he greeted me in Spanish, and I replied in English, and then we were greeted by a man I’ll call the Silver Fox of Argentina who spoke to us both in English, ushering is into a room with couches where others waited.
Then several groups of people came in all speaking Spanish and went directly upstairs. The Silver Fox of Argentina seemed to know them. I wasn’t sure, though, because, you know, language.
Speaking of–let’s talk about my mad language skillz . I’ve got none. I’m like really super good at English, but other languages? My brain cannot compute. Nine years of Spanish education and the most I can say is Me llamo Cristina y no me gusts la basura. Loosely translated, that means They call me Christina Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or maybe it means something about the trash can. Either way, not very helpful for further conversation.
My senior year of high school was spent sharing a classroom with 8th graders taking Italian 1 because none of us seniors wanted to enroll in AP Spanish literature. In my one year of Italian, I learned quanianihai? Loosely translated: how many years do you have?
So here I am at the Consulate of Argentina, and the Silver Fox of Argentina tells us all in English that we can go upstairs now. We all go upstairs and the people in the little lounge at the top of the steps clearly know each other, but I can’t understand what they’re saying because they’re speaking in Spanish. Then in the auditorium through the double doors next to the lounge area are people hugging and greeting each other. In Spanish. Slowly, I’m realizing that I’m pretty much the only person here who is not speaking Spanish, and I have no idea what’s going on so I wind up texting a few people whose answers to me were to either yell Defect! or simply Que? Which loosely translates to K?
Now I could have asked someone who looked like they were in charge about what was going on. I could have gone up to anyone near the microphone set up or anyone adjusting the posters for the event to introduce myself and ask for the organizer. If you think all this sounds logical, FOR SHAME! You don’t know me at all. I mean, I can barely do that in a room of people speaking English. You think I’m gonna start introducing myself to people who are speaking a completely different language. Ha ha! I scoff at your confidence in my social abilities.
Instead, I did what any normal adult would do. I walked around like I was casing the joint until I saw everyone start to settle in.
Everyone sits down, so I sit down. Then several people go to the front of the room to start. And they start speaking in Spanish. It then dawns on me that I’m in the Consulate of Argentina and not only are the social conversations in Spanish, but the entire program is going to be en Espanol. Loose translation: in Spanish.
I understood every 8th word, like when they were saying the next reader’s country and name. I understood some of the poetry because that was read more slowly.
Then the poet from Mexico read a poem in English! Okay, now we were bilingual! Then he explained and read his second poem in Spanish. I’m not exactly sure what was going on because he had in his ear buds and carried his phone in his face and kept his eyes closed (ojos!) and bumped into people and things as he walked around and recited, but he didn’t bump into as many things as you may expect.
Another poet read poems in several languages. Okay, now we were multilingual!
My plan was to sit there until I heard my name. It was all I could do. A few poets later the stars aligned and I heard, Now is Christina Rau here?
Yes! I am! I am Christina Rau! I understand the words coming forth from your mouth, ma’am. Yes, that is me! I am here! Yes! My hand shot straight up and I may have jumped with glee. I didn’t have to figure out when I was going next after all.
I made it to the podium, and I could have said Hola or Buenos tardes, but instead I said Good evening because I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I may be able to hold any kind of conversation in Spanish. I read my few poems without any commentary and then at the end when I could have said Gracias I said thank you and made my way to my chair.
This lovely person in the crowd Instagrammed some of my reading. I’m still not 100% sure what she wrote, but I recognize my name and poetry, so I’m going to say it’s a-okay.
The director found me and showed me my poem in the anthology, handing over my own copy. It’s a fabulous book!
Then a few more poets went and there were announcements and reasons to clap. I clapped because that’s what you do when an entire room claps. That’s also how The Handmaid’s Tale begins, but what’s a gal to do? Simply do what everyone else is doing and be okay with it.
All the readers were called to the stage for photos, and that I understood and was able to thank all the organizers who gathered around. Then we said we’d try to do something out on Long Island. We spoke in English. And there was then wine and snacks, and I left because I don’t speak the language of alcohol anymore either.
On my way out, the gentleman who had walked in with me was also leaving. And in Spanish he wished me a good night (or cursed me out—I wouldn’t know the difference) and I said good night to him in English. Because nine years of Spanish taught me to stick with what I know.
Someone should probably point me in the direction of the Rosetta stone. Or a Spanish-English dictionary. I may not be able to wrap my brain around another language perfectly, but I can sure try.