31 March, 2014

Be the Working Class Always More Compassionate

On the last day of March, a deep tumultuous winter, and the revelation that betrayal might be the word for the season, there is clarity in resistance, shock, anger and change. An unexpected refreshing light after the darker days. A gratitude and continued indecision. 

In this era of heroin addiction, of young girls in small Massachusetts towns arrested in gas station bathrooms in possession of 44 bags of heroin. The loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The news reports that the working class are more compassionate. That my mother always opened the door for strangers. That I am trying to not be so kind but am so naturally kind.

Then I find the song below. This heart wrenching beauty for all the people who seek and need counsel. For the people I know who pursue the profession.

For warmth. For opening hearts and giving space. For love that feels this committed. For surprise endings. 

For these lyrics:
When your sparkle evades your soul
I'll be at your side to console
When you're standing on the window ledge
I'll talk you back, back from the edge
I will turn, I will turn your tide
Be your shepherd, I swear, be your guide
When you're lost in the deep and darkest place around
May my words walk with you home safe and sound
When you say that I'm no good, then you feel like walking
I need to make sure you know that's just the prescription talking
When your feet decide to walk you on the wayward side
Climbing up upon the stairs and down the downward slide
I will turn, I will turn your tide
Do all that I can to heal you inside
I will be the angel on your shoulder
My name is Geraldine, I'm your social worker
For this song: 

09 March, 2014

How the Sharing Economy Doesn't Need Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, Boston, MA
The current generation of 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings—Millennials into Gen X—are stuck in the rotation of an old model of corporatism and systemic hierarchies that are progressively outdated.

In April 2013, just around tax season, James Surowiecki published in The New Yorker’s Financial Page that $2 trillion dollars is missing from the U.S. economy. In the article, he states that money represents a grey economy of under the table jobs: “nannies, barbers, Web-site designers, and construction workers….Ordinary Americans…”—ordinary Americans in a workforce that is both creatively and actively afloat. A grey economy that represents an act of creative ingenuity for the 10.5 million Americans who are currently unemployed, underemployed, or who have been laid off in the United States since 2008.

There would be an expectation that these lay off numbers would generate a mass cultural state of depression and despair—and in some demographics, it has—but what I think it has created also, more genuinely, is a shared economy. Because Americans have been told that the cubicle boxes they so snuggly fit into for years no longer need them (or want them), the American public have been forced to discover how to fit snuggly into an economy that they themselves had to create.

The executive head of a small nonprofit organization (NPO) in Massachusetts once referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to demonstrate where certain employees stood in that particular office environment (an office that had barely 8 full-time staff at the time). That sounds like trying force a square into circle and demanding output and efficiency. That model is not going to work for a generation who perpetually expects to be laid off. Because stability is no longer found in those structures, most employees find, or are working toward, innovate economic escape routes. Perhaps survival of the fittest is a more accurate indicator, but I’m too much of an optimist for that. And that’s my point.

Whether or not the economy is sure-footed, the nebulous nature of its recovery is making a certain demographic of the population sure-footed, and it’s not the 1%.

Maslow’s Needs do not reflect the current nature of productivity and integration of people in the United States, or if it does, it is the middle section: “Love/belonging”. Maslow’s pyramid structure no longer exists, not really. His hierarchy, an outdated patriarchal paradigm, pushes against cooperative feminist structures of sustainability, compassion, humanity, and cultural collaboration. The idea that there are people—helpers and connectors—who will give a person a chance over and over again (for no apparent economic, corporate, or social gain) is a progressive, but by no means new, model to keep the economy moving and to keep the populace engaged with its community and world.

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and had the brief privilege of working under the direction of Lois Weisberg, former Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, before the office was shuttered in 2012. In that brief moment in gleaming Chicago history, I understood what it meant to be one of Gladwell’s connectors.

And since, more and more, women make up a significant portion of the workforce (and in honor of International Women's Day), perhaps an act of feminism, then, would be to proactively work in opposition to those structures of hierarchy? To act with greater connectedness, love/belonging, compassion
even healing?

Systemic office culture under Maslow’s hierarchy is classism. And in the current state of U.S. affairs and privatization, too many workers are still marching and climbing and racing to the top of a ladder toward some dream of corporate success, yet somehow never got the memo that there is no longer a top to get to.

And that’s the American dream.

Doing it Ourselves: What the Economic Crisis Really Means and What We Can Do About It

11 January, 2014


It happens with music. In the glamour and hustle of the New Year, I thought, sometimes, of a resolution. What should I resolve? I awoke on New Year's morning and played "The Cave" by Mumford & Sons. I danced, defiantly angry, around my apartment, taking the reigns. But the reigns dropped after the song ended, back to the muffled, suppression of what I encounter in my daily life. I played the song again. 

When I look toward the year, I resolve this: 
  • to be less conservative, particularly in my personal exchanges
  • to rely less on skating by and more on proactive attention to detail and organization
  • to allow myself to be outspoken, not shaken or shut out by a woman's aggression, this last happens to me often, the suppression of women by women: I will not allow it any longer
  • to keep to my promise in the summer: I will remain. If I am stubborn in unnecessary areas of my life, I will teach myself to be stubborn in the necessary ones 
  • to battle my finances with a keener spirit and a sharper eye
  • to travel to Los Angeles or Paris, whichever will take me first
  • to spend more time in the literary realm, because books are recovery
This morning, I danced around my house to this song. I thought of my sister. I thought my father and the four acres of land he now owns. Of our family dog, Ziggy, a little black and white chihuahua who got hit by a car this week but survived and will move from a small apartment to a big house with so much land so far away from so many cars.

My candle this year at the Zen Buddhist Temple's NYE "Kindling the Light of Wisdom and Heart" celebration was but an ember, barely burning, blue, resilient, the color cranberry my mother always preferred. Stubborn in a steady way. The Buddhist I handed it to nearly handed it back, encouraging me to get a new one. I looked at him and said, "It is lit." He understood and placed it on the mantel. 

Both the Buddhist and I wanted something brilliant, that we could see, but were given something that required attention and care. I bet my candle burnt out first, but if it didn't, I bet it glowed through the night. 


22 December, 2013

Songbirds in Winter

Hearth. Woodland. A round of robins. A mythical Alpine Christmas creature resurrected. Wendigo. Gifts from my father. Faith. The snow as it melts from too much rain on the solstice. Prayers for so much blizzard.

I spend much of my time writing about the women in my life. This year, this season, I dedicate to my father. As the winter solstice wanes and the days grow lighter again, my meditation focuses on his steadfast nature, his resilience, his never-ending attention to light. If my mother is the civil dawn, my father is the moment just before.

The heaviness and weariness he wears on his face from hard work, how joy lurks in every crack of newly beginning wrinkles regardless of history. How I take my good humor from him, how we go to the turkey shoots every December. How the winter I discover Krampus (from the German "to claw" or "to seize") is the same year my father's impeccable aim shoots a 156 lb. buck in the woods of my childhood. When the animal hit the ground, its eight point antlers shot straight off its skull into the Massachusetts snow. A gruesome victory for a practice unrelenting.

How my father loves those forests, how his diligence shadows mine, his punctuality an earmark, his jest that of a master trickster well-intentioned. How his sadness sobers me because his resilience never exhausts. His excitement to show me new things never wavers and his stoicism listens every time I am angry, every time I am happy. I have seen my father's small dreams manifest into reality with patience, even though I believe my sense of urgency comes from him.

He is the rural compass I never lost, the hummingbird feeder stationed outside every windowsill no matter how many times I lose direction. He is the reason the songbirds sing before sunrise. He is quick on his feet to greet them.

He is a round of robins in winter well prepared for the frost, awaiting good news.

"my father, who had no faith, but loved
how the long, ascending syllable of wild
echoed from the walls in celebration..."
 from "Aubade in Autumn" by Peter Everwine

03 November, 2013

Wolves in Timber

I am writing a tanka each day in November. My small attempt at writing a novel in 30 days. November is a careful month. Here is inspiration and response: 


In the Howls at 
close of day, deep evening 
unsettling om- 
inous, feed, reach, outcry
poise hunger, wolves in timber.


12 October, 2013

The Belle of Belfast City

Arms wrapped around fall, a tumultuous summer, the wounds of travel, transition, death, grief. Grim worlds of wakes in Irish settings, Irish flags in fresh ground, the foundation of a family strong and crumpling and molding together beds of grass and my grandmother's marble funeral urn turquoise, a color she chose, so beautiful on an August morning. 

Her gift to me a clock that always keeps time, royal purple of a queen who knew best the last year of her life, histories before. In a community hall, in an apartment she called her own, coffee sipped every day, all day black and there was still never enough time. Never enough time for sleepovers under quilted blankets, conversations over breakfast and so many hard candies, baskets full. 

My heart broke the hardest six days after my 31st birthday. A woman who kept tabs on obituaries, of elder people in town dying off as if it were just another thing, as if she would never be next. That blue house on the hill, a place where love lives, the wood stove, the fire place, the dogs around our feet. 

What I wouldn't give for all of those hours watching the snow fall. Warmth is a place that lives in the heart of the people we lose. When they laugh, we can hear them for generations. Listen. 

From Here to Belfast

19 July, 2013

Azul in Summertime

Photo courtesy: summer57
The color of my grandparents' house. Azul or blue in summertime. The back of the house painted a few different shades each summer because my grandfather would climb the paint ladder each day to maintain structure. One hand unable to move, frozen from a stroke years earlier. But he painted anyway. The yard full of blueberries and gardens and greens and freshly hung laundry in the sunshine. This is the New England I smell when I return. The deep black soil stretching into roots of earth only defined by this land.

That land contrasted by the land I cultivated eight years in the Midwest. The golden smell of the prairie, grasses soft brown and soil sand, the minerals less glimmering, but warm. I live an intentional artist community. Three years prior I healed from the loss of my mother in the Solarium. I chose no clothes and stepped into a community of no one I knew and my naked body painted an apple tree. Roots growing down around my hips, the trunk my tummy, and my breasts two large beautiful red apples. My heart broken and open in the August sun.

I am the only white person in the Solarium. Communication and navigation structure to understand my ally-ship, directly addressing and connecting a deep hurt I can only see from afar, or up close if I ask. Given breath, space, held. There are few New England blues in the Solarium, lots of reds and yellows, the color of Arizona clay or the deep embers of the earth's star.
I've never understood
round things, why would leaving come back
to itself? 
-Bob Hicok
In the heat of the Chicago summer, the reason for return more forward than the icy New England winter. Medgar Evers returns to Florida exactly 50-years later in Trayvon Martin's gated community in a false post-race period and every fight cast from the embers awakens a history and when I am shocked on an airline on a Sunday afternoon, my heart aching, racing, curious, hopeful, naive, wistful, helpful, fully aware that when I move faster in time, time steps back. 

Through the doors of the unknown over and over I ask questions that are difficult to leap off my tongue, break silences starving for understanding, starving for energy to speak and light the way with every new revolution. How silent we can be, how our orbits are not navigational, how we bind in spite of our fears. How we hold onto our history like a light we hope it will be, dawning every horror in our makeshift bed lamp of country. When I arise each morning, I seek blue water that will fully diffuse this fury, hoping it will not rise faster after dampening each time.

Each time, grateful, it does.

25 May, 2013

Flying Object: News from Mars

It is a freezing Memorial Day weekend in New England, good for reading, writing, and submitting poems to journals. It is also good for attending literary readings.

It has been quite a while since I updated this little blog, but I did want to make sure I shared some news from Mars:

On Monday, May 27 at 7 p.m. I will read poems at Flying Object during the Spring Workshop Reading Series. Many wonderful writers and poets can be found on the shelves of Flying Object and, in collaboration with Factory Hollow Press, published there. The reading comes on the heels of the Poets & Poems Workshop with Emily Pettit, which I highly recommend. 

I will be one of a handful of warm and amazing writers and poets to read on Monday. I may read poems about ukuleles. I may read poems about Russian cats. They will not be mine, but I hope there will be poem portals about hens in the room. 

If you are not up to anything this rainy, dreary, Memorial Day, please come to Flying Object. It will lift your feet and your heart

19 March, 2013

Coyotes in the Paper City

Abandoned Mill in The Paper City
An emblem of navigation. It is snowing so much. The flakes are big, large, marble sized sometimes. As if tall trees that we cannot see shake their branches at the sky, loosening the wet from weighing them down.

Two years ago today my mother passed. I don't remember if it was snowing that day. It happens to snow a lot when my sister and I visit her grave. I have never tested this in July, but I like to think it is true. 

I wonder, each year, if this is a personal day. A day of notification and memory. A day to make clear where I stand in the universe, where my boundaries lie. (The answer is yes, and sometimes.) I am so protective of things out east, my home. So proud of my working class upbringing when I am anywhere else. When I am here, it is shadowed by what is coined the Tofu Curtain. The tofu curtain is the Holyoke Mountain Range that separates the Pioneer Valley from the Springfield Metro area of Western Massachusetts, a place so filled with privilege it forgets itself. 

I miss the urban hustle of Carl Sandburg's city. The latino kids speaking Spanish on the train with the diamond earring bling, the Russian family who then boards, the Polish accents behind me, the black kids riding the red line from Uptown to the South Side and back again. Last week, riding the T through Boston, I told my friend Jen that subway trains make me feel human.

The day before St. Patrick's Day, I watched my sister run a six mile race through the Paper City, or Holyoke, during what is the second largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the country. I had never actually been to Holyoke. Within minutes of arriving downtown, we were solicited drugs on the street corner. It didn't feel threatening, but a way of life. The buildings are boarded up in the Paper City. Not some. Not a handful. Most. All. Old factories on rivers. Buildings that once operated as apartment complexes. Auto shops. Paper mills. Everything. Yet, each year, 7,000 people sign up for this annual race. People pay $25.00 to run through Holyoke, past the drug dealers, abandoned houses, and shuttered mills. But I don't think Holyoke sees a penny of that money.

I felt more at ease on the streets of Holyoke than I sometimes do on the other side of that curtain. Here, in Northampton, the coyotes howl on Saturday nights and you can hear their cries for miles. I am afraid to step outside. I won't walk home through the woods without my headlamp and pocket knife. I am afraid of encountering bears.
Three months ago I left Chicago for New England, a place I then called Mars. It still feels like Mars up here. 

Chicago is approximately 30 miles north, south and west, urban sprawl in all directions but east, but I bet Lake Michigan stretches that far. You can't see the other side. Which is Michigan if you look straight across: "The Upper Peninsula is a spare state / in case Michigan goes flat." Detroit is now state run

Maybe by summer Mars will feel like home again. Maybe I have to continue running up the hills of the Paper City to prove to myself there is a view from there. And that the view from the wrong side of the mountain is the view that I am looking for.

My mother didn't bore me into a state of luxury, but she taught me how to fight and what to fight for. I hope I get snarled up in the coyotes. I hope I howl with them all night long. I hope they help me tear through the wooden panels of the abandoned buildings. I hope they reach out their claws, hold the hand of the dying on the other side and say, 

"We are making paper again. We are planting you trees."