My Yard, My Body

My Yard, My Body

She is an instrument,

split tree in my yard,

her center cracked and crinkled branches

falling outward, toward the carpet of blades,

green sprouting from the between tawny brown.

That old tree is a massive flower blooming,

and looking at her, at the yard before me,

knowing its lushness-to-be,

I feel my cold bare toes on the ground,

and think how what is mine is not mine

until I water it.


On Art and Fear

A dispatch from yours truly

For me, making art isn’t scary. Making origami penguins and photo albums, baking cakes and knitting hats and writing stories is always therapeutic and pleasant. But sharing those things with others gives me a lump in my throat the size of Texas, so that often after I send a story out for review, I need to take a yoga break or turn on my meditation app so I can listen to the voice of an Australian Buddhist who will tell me to sit in my chair under my weighted blanket for ten minutes which is usually enough time for me to remember how to breathe.

I was in the public library yesterday, browsing through books in the new nonfiction section at the far corner of the front room. The room is primarily filled with DVD’s and has these big windows above the shelves through which cold February sunlight graced me and handful of other patrons with its presence. A title caught my eye. It was a tiny tan book on the bottom display shelf. Art and Fear. What could art have to do with fear? Probably a lot, given that someone had gone and written a book and that book had probably been sent out to many editors, and one editor had chosen to spend their precious budget money to publish it. Then a good amount of people, including this library had gone out and bought it so the general public could enjoy it for free, and at their convenience.

I want to know that what I sit down to make every day is good, that some people somewhere in the world will see it and pay attention and find some new life after having seen it. But here’s the catch: I’d rather spend time making art than preparing for shows or scrolling through Submittable. And so I keep sitting down at my desk to write stories and make origami penguins for myself.

I sat down at the circular wooden table to open the book which had set off these thoughts and turned to a segment on “Higher Education.” Art and Fear discredited higher education so bitterly that I couldn’t help but question my decision to attend grad school, one I’d made while living at home with my parents and working at a public library for pay equal to that of a cashier at Walmart and feeling quite directionless and also kind of like a failure. The authors of the book claimed grad school would offer you a false sense of security, but it wouldn’t help you become any better at art. In fact, most people who went to grad school had to “recover” from it. I couldn’t stop reading the book which was addictive in the manner of bad sex or cigarettes. The authors claimed that most people who go to grad school never make art again. So cynical! But there was some truth to it. Not everyone gets famous. Most people don’t have the shape of their ass publicly broadcasted on CSPAN. Me and all my peers will very likely be relegated to making our art during our shift at the gas station at 2am when truckers buying soda and muffins are the only customers. I think the authors of Art and Fear would say that’s failing, and so would my eighteen-year old self, ranked 3rd in my tiny high school class. I thought I was destined to become something better.

I didn’t read far enough into the book to see if the authors even came to a conclusion about art and fear. To be honest, I was pissed at them, whoever they were. For me, the link is between fear and sharing art, not fear and making art. It’s a fear I am practicing inviting in. I invite it to sit with me and help me fold my origami on Sunday afternoons when the tea is just about to boil.   

A Modest Proposal for Preventing Six Months of Bad Moods and Cancellations of Which Winter in NH is Composed

One of the biggest problems we have here in New Hampshire is the cold weather which causes everyone to hibernate like muskrats for a good six months. The streets are generally deserted, stores have to put everything on sale and events are cancelled left and right because no one wants to go out in the cold. Really, after the December holidays, everything is downhill. The snow goes from being picturesque to oppressive, and people’s moods go from bad to worse. I’m here to tell you things aren’t hopeless in the face of this damn cold. I’m here to present a solution to this problem which is as old as the first settlement at Odiorne Point.

My solution is simple: let global warming happen. Let the basement furnaces blaze, pumping greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. What could go wrong? The more greenhouse gasses we produce, the warmer our climate will be. We won’t have to worry about seasonal affective disorders among our population or the cancelling of schools due to snow and frigid temperatures. The only thing school might be cancelled for would be too much fun. I hear they have that in Florida. On especially nice days, everyone skips school or work for the beach, and according to Google searches, they all seem to be doing great.

An increase in global temperatures would have economic benefits too. We’d have a year-round growing season just like California. With some small improvements to our rocky soil, we could keep our economy local and, if we succeed at that, could broaden our markets to sell to other colder places like Canada and the arctic research facilities. They certainly need oranges and pineapples in places like that where citrus is rare.

I admit that if we go through with my plan, sea levels will rise due to the melting glaciers, so some of our seacoast will be uninhabitable. But we have so much undeveloped land in the White Mountain National Forest, that shouldn’t be an issue. There’s no reason why we couldn’t develop that land to adjust for the displaced population at the seacoast. Besides, we only have nine miles of coastline, so our issues will be small compared to our neighboring states Massachusetts and Maine. Come a 20 degree increase in temperatures, residents of those states will be flocking here.

Move South? No! Why would you uproot your family, your friendships, and your livelihood when there is an easy solution. The plan will be not be difficult to execute, but it requires action on everyone’s part. Turn up your thermostats pronto and forget your woodstoves. You can use your already chopped wood to make abstract art. Ignore all bids to increase public transportation and bike lanes. You probably have a car anyways so keep driving it as much as possible. Take that trip down to Boston. Make the haul up the auto road to the top of Mount Washington. In twenty years, it’ll be covered in condominiums if all goes well, so you’ve got to see it while it’s still public land. Buy a new iPhone every year, flush the toilet twice after every use, and last but not least, please leave all your lights on, even when you’re sleeping. They have eye masks for the sensitive sleepers among us. It’s the little things that count.

I implore you, dear people, if you want to live in the brightest and happiest state in the nation and get us out of this deplorable mess we call winter, take a stand and let off the fumes so we can warm New Hampshire up.

The White Girl Next Door

I live in a big blue house in the Phillips neighborhood. It’s a four-plex occupied by seven Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps members. When I give my address, Minneapolis folks don’t comment on the fact that I don’t look like my neighbors. However, they do offer me rides home, especially at night.

I am most aware of my difference when I’m cruising for groceries at the Aldi located a block from our house on Franklin Avenue. On a typical day, I’m there at 5:30 PM in black leggings, a tank top, flannel, and no bra. I’m young, white and alone. Most of the other customers are Somali mothers with kids in tow. Conversations flow around me built up with blurry syllables. The mothers wear brilliantly colored dresses which brush the tile floor and matching scarves on their heads. Most of these women are immigrants who moved to the U.S. in the 1990s in response to the Somali civil war. They’ve been in Minneapolis far longer than I.

Somalis make up the majority of my neighbors yet I know so few of them. My primary point of reference is the neighborhood where I grew up. We knew everyone on the street and the names of all their pets. One time a Habitat homeowner who volunteered with me told me she lived a few blocks from the Aldi (my Aldi!) but I had never seen her before. Perhaps this is how living in a city goes, or perhaps this is how racism goes.

Since I spend most of my childhood living in rural New Hampshire, I know it is possible to ignore racism while simultaneously being very racist. I can count on one hand the number of non-white individuals who attended my high school. I spent the next four years at two small liberal arts schools which were also primarily white middle class institutions and traveling in Ireland where I lived with and among more white people with great accents. I’m still processing what it means to be a white person and to be in the racial minority.

My whiteness makes me uncertain in my interactions with my neighbors. When a big crowd of kids stands on the corner across from my house, I don’t know how to walk by and show kindness or even acknowledge them. My co-workers have expressed similar sentiments. When a domestic fight between a husband and wife occurred in the street at 4am, the woman in the downstairs unit watched the altercation from between the slats in her blinds.

One way I do fit in with my neighbors is by not making much money. I live on $500/month with my AmeriCorps stipend. I’ve tried out various second jobs that would increase my income, but frankly, I don’t have the energy to work over 40 hours a week unless it’s art related. So when we’re all in the check out line at Aldi, we pull out our EBT food stamps cards to pay for our groceries. This makes me feel good, like I’m finally finding some solidarity with my neighbors.

Certainly my whiteness marks my difference now in ways it hasn’t done so in my history. I’m finding that learning and inviting my discomfort is part of how I’m taking down racism. I’m inspired by people like Debby Irving who has addressed her white identity in writing: “If there’s a place for tolerance in racial healing, perhaps it has to do with tolerating my own feelings of discomfort that arise when a person, of any color, expresses emotion not welcome in the culture of niceness. It also has to do with tolerating my own feelings of shame, humiliation, regret, anger, and fear so I can engage, not run. For me, tolerance is not about others, it’s about accepting my own uncomfortable emotions as I adjust to a changing view of myself as imperfect and vulnerable. As human”
(Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race). 

Here’s to another day in the neighborhood.