Camera Shy

One night, I was managing a show called The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia at a tiny bookshop in downtown Buffalo.  I could fit maybe 15 people comfortably in there at a time, but this particular evening at least 20 folks showed up, one in a wheelchair.  It was my job to handle the crowd while they were in the small space, and so I did what had to be done.  I stood on the stage area and announced we were all going to play a game of Tetris.  The crowd laughed.  I then comically rearranged all these strangers so that everyone could sit comfortably, and so the woman in the wheelchair could get a spot in the front row.  For five or ten minutes, I just riffed, no problem.  In my head I thought, what is this, if not acting?  I mean, it’s basic improv.  I’d been onstage acting for so many times in my life at that point, that it was just natural.

Now, I don’t believe I have lost this ability, but technology has altered it.  As it turns out, I have no stage-fright, but I am painfully camera-shy.

I never liked having my picture taken, and with the advent of the selfie I was very cautious.  But now, things are changing again, and it is videos that rule the world.  And I just can’t.

I’ve made a few.  The ones where I introduce myself and read a poem are best.  The one I made for the suicide walk didn’t turn out too bad, but I stumbled a little, and my palms were sweaty, and my heart was racing.  Then came the Patreon idea.

On my Patreon, I have The Vociferous Vlog, where I read a poem and then talk about the inspiration behind it.  In theory, it’s a really good idea, but as it turns out, videos are not my strong suit.  I should have realized…I’d always rather read the article, y’know?

The first one I made was ok, but E and I did it together and couldn’t quite get the angle on the camera right.  I was far away and not as clear-sounding as we had hoped.  The second one was worse, because Mark tried to hand-cam it and shook the whole time, which wasn’t even obvious until I uploaded it to the computer.  Then, it looked terrible.  I looked good, but I also kept my eyes down the entire time, which is something I will have to work on.

You would think I would be better at this.  And also, I’ve done plenty of Zoom calls during the pandemic, and never felt this way about those…perhaps because I’m talking with someone?  PLUS, my Patreon is just starting out and only has a few subscribers, so why am I bugging over people I KNOW seeing me in a video?

No really, I’m asking.  I have no answers.

I know that you could drop me in the middle of a stage and I could entertain for an hour.  I know it.  But to get me to film myself doing five minutes of poetry talk on my own?  Nope. I try to summon the theater person deep within me but I guess she’s sleeping (likely due to some SSRI’s,) and won’t be coming to my aide today, at least.

I shall try again tomorrow.

My Mental Mistresses

I got dumped last week, by my therapist. 

She got a job at the agency I’ve been badmouthing for two years, assuring me that things have changed now that said agency has changed from a zero-tolerance policy to a harm-reduction model for substance use.  That’s why I left.  They were going to put me in the drug program because I smoked a little pot.  They also yanked my Xanax out from under me and when I had a full-on panic attack in my doctor’s office, he slammed the door in my face.  No thanks, I’m out.

Anyway, I found a swell spot after that large Buffalo-based agency that may or may not have a rising sun as their logo and started seeing a woman named Jamie.  My prescribers have rotated a little over the past two years there, but that is to be expected anywhere.  You don’t need to bond with the person giving you your pills; that’s what your counselor is for. 

Jamie was fine.  She was very good at her job, and I liked her very much, but I didn’t feel the “click” I have felt with other counselors in the past.  These are the people you open your mind to, and it is important that you mesh well on every level.  Jamie did a fine job.  But she was no Carissa.

I don’t remember when I had Carissa.  I know it was at that aforementioned agency I went to for ten years, and I know it was at their Hertel branch and I think it was while I still lived in Kenmore.  The thing is, my meds weren’t right at the time, so all of that time period is a mishmash of memory.  When Carissa dumped me for a job in the Southern Tier, I was depressed.  I was devastated.  She was my favorite, and she was gone, and it was over.  It was then that I recognized a peculiar thing: these women have no last names.

My first counselor was named Sarah.  I saw her at D’Youville College because my friends dragged me there one afternoon.  I never knew her last name.  When I moved over to what I refer to as the “Fancy Suburban Drug Dealers” agency, I had three other counselors, whose first names I couldn’t even tell you.  Of course, they pumped me so full of meds based on a misdiagnosis that I was practically a zombie the whole time.  Then, The Rising Sun, where I ended up with Carissa, who left me with no last name and no forwarding information.

Alas!  One day, she found me on Myspace.  I was very happy but I still don’t know her last name.  And now, Myspace is dead and I can’t find her on Facebook without a surname.  After Carissa, came Katie.

Katie and I were together for years, and I actually got to know her last name.  However., The Rising Sun implemented their zero-tolerance policy, and one day she told me they would be tox screening everyone.  “But that’s not a problem for you…” she says.

I tell her, right away, that it is a problem, that not only will I test positive for cannabis but that I believe it is an infringement on my privacy.  She becomes shocked that I have never mentioned cannabis use before and our relationship starts to crumble.  Now, I have only good things to say about Katie, who from what I understand is running some things over there now, and I am hopeful that her experiences with me and other clients has opened her eyes to other possibilities.  The trust between us was broken, though; she felt I had kept something important from our sessions.  I felt it was none of her gotdamn business.

An impasse.  Fortunately, she was promoted up the ladder and I was thrown over to the Orchard Park location, where I met Ashley.

Ashley was great.  She totally agreed that it was nonsense, the whole bit about the cannabis, and did her best to keep me out of the drug program at The Rising Sun, always stating that I wasn’t abusing the substance.  Then she moved to Colorado and oh my heart!  But…I knew her last name.  In fact, we exchanged emails, and after she was settled she got in touch.   We still occasionally email, and yes, there are topics I am more comfortable sending in a letter to her than expressing via speech to my therapist. 

In many ways, she reminds me of the feeling I had with Carissa.

However, after her departure I was moved to a woman named Liz.  She was fine, in the way that Jamie was fine.  But she didn’t fight for me. 

When I became a number at The Rising Sun, I was furious.  They were making me into a statistic…showing me on graphs as someone with mental illness who also had a substance abuse problem.   They insisted I start drug counseling.  I told them to fuck right off.

Which brings me to now.  I found a little place that was like “oh, you smoke pot?  Well, let me put you in touch with a medical marijuana doctor,” and I was sold.  I feel like my doc actually listens to me, which is new in general, and I never feel like a number because it’s a small place.  AND, I’ve had two good counselors so far.  I mean, not great…but good.

Anyway, I’m seeing a new woman named Rachel next week, and I am hopeful.  I hope we “click.”  Jamie thinks we will.  I’m actually going into the office to meet her too, which is something I haven’t done in a year, so that’s kind of exciting.

I wonder, will I know her last name some day?  Will I be gifted that knowledge after a year or two of counseling, when the bond is formed?  Will I look back ten years from now and remember her fondly?

Or will I not remember her at all?

Pep Talk

Sometimes, I will be super hyped to do something and then my brain will be like “haha, no,” and then I end up sitting on the couch eating cereal straight out of the box and watching old episodes of Fringe.  Oh depression, you vicious mistress.

So, I drag myself into the office and check my email and socials and try to prepare myself for the day.  I open a word document to start writing and then suddenly there is a garbage truck outside my door, banging and clanging its way slowly down the street.  No hope for concentration, so I pop over to Submittable to check on my poetry submissions.  No change.  Ho-hum.

Then, to the blog!  Alas, no topic.  Nothing, because depression ate it, like a hungry teenager raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

I can’t focus my thoughts.  I look at my yellow umbrella that hangs off the bookshelf to my left and think that I should have taken it to the beach with me on Saturday.  I look at the star on the wall that says “One Day at a Time,” and I think gee that’s great, now someone give me a cigarette!  I look at the ceiling.  There are cobwebs in the corner.  Perhaps I should sweep them?

Anything, anything, anything but write.

After this, whatever this is, I am going to attempt to put my chicken-scratch notes on my chappie into type,  Then, put those typed words into an email, and send it to my editor.  Real, actual, needs-to-be-done work.,,but my serotonin levels don’t give a crap.  I also want to work on new submissions since it is August now, but that seems like a faraway chore at the moment. 

Oh, and I want to clean my house, because I had my four kiddos plus G this weekend and the joint is wrecked.

First, I guess, I will drink some coffee.  I will be grateful that the street is now fairly quiet, and I can write and work in peace.  I will sit here in this office chair until all my tasks are done, because while my brain and hormone levels and all that garbage may be telling me one thing, my heart is telling me another: you can do it.

Hibernation

Hi!

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been out for a week and a half.  Usually when I miss a day in my blog it’s because I am in the hospital, but this was not the case this week.  I was home, and my stomach was calm.  My brain was not.  It’s still not great.  It’s kind of like when you have the flu, and you start to feel a little better each day.  I’m on day three of feeling a little bit better. 

I was kicking myself this time last week, mad that I hadn’t updated the previous Monday and had nothing to write about then.  I gave myself that Monday “off,” because I felt pretty down, and I wanted to take some time for myself.  So I watched some movies and made soup for lunch and snuggled with my blanket on the couch.  I thought I would feel better Tuesday.  I didn’t.

So last Thursday, I came back to the blog, feeling even lower, because it had been four days and I hadn’t written A THING.  Not my blog, not my WIP, not a poem.  Not so much as a sentence.

I felt slightly better while the kids were here this past weekend, but that all fell apart again Monday morning.  I felt worse than I had the previous Monday.  Blogging was out of the question.

So for the past week and a half, I have pretty much been hibernating in my living room, watching Pretty Little Liars and eating cereal.

I don’t know what my problem was.  It felt almost like I wasn’t taking my meds, even though I was.  And it left as quickly as it came, too.  I told my therapist and she told me not to worry about it unless it happens again, so I won’t.  But I always try to solve the little puzzles and figure out why my brain does what it does, so I tried to solve this mystery.  The best I can come up with is stress.  I handle stress so poorly…it just builds up and then drowns me.  I have been very stressed the past few weeks, and it is compounded stress; months of worries toppling down on me.  I wasn’t taking care of my stress levels like I’m supposed to, and I think it caused me to spiral a little.

After a week or so of self-care, I feel better.  I feel normal.  Maybe even positive, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  What I need to remember is to take the time for self-care regularly, and not have my stress get so bad that I implode.

Anyway, I’m here and I’m alive and well.  I still haven’t gotten to my WIP, but I just updated my blog, so that’s something.

Waiting on Opportunity

Oh anxiety, my old foe.

Today I am thinking about my friend Sahar’s husband, Rob.  For the new reader, they live in Kentucky currently, which I abhor.  They are simply too far away from me and that is unacceptable.  So last year when Sahar told me that Rob had a chance of a new job in Cleveland, I was almost as excited as they were.  That’s an easy weekend trip.  I had my fingers crossed, hoping they would hear something soon.

Again, this was last year.

This summer, he finally got the job.  Sahar is busy scouting out houses in Ohio.  They are very excited.  I am very excited.

Yet, right now all I can think of is how Rob waited A YEAR for this opportunity.

I have two things I’m waiting for right now, and if I had to wait a year, I honestly don’t know if I’d even bother.  I’m not that patient-it’s one of my faults.  I have enough anxiety waiting a couple of weeks.  I can’t imagine an entire year of that.

I’m going to go ahead and risk jinxing myself and tell you about these opportunities that I am waiting on pins and needles about.  First, the nearest opportunity…I entered a poetry contest.  I used to attend a group called Fourth Friday at my local bookstore…usually it was a featured reader followed by some open mics.  It took a lot, I mean A LOT of courage for me to go in the first place, then to keep going, then to read my work there.  Sadly, due to Covid, this is no more.  However, the groups organizer, Rachel, moved it online.  Now it has morphed into her own Facebook live poetry broadcast-a featured reader gets interviewed, they discuss current topics, and the reader shares their work.  The contest remains, judged by the feature, and she usually wraps up by sharing the winner. 

So, I wrote a little something the other day and sent it off on a whim.  As usual, I think it’s crap, but I thought the one I sent in March was crap too…but I won, and I ended up turning it into a micro-chap.  So who knows.  Anyway, this month, the winner will be given a seven-minute slot on her show to share their poem.  Since I am currently trying to hype my poetry book, this would be a truly perfect opportunity for me.  But the anxiety…half “I don’t know if I want all those people to see me” and half “everything I write is crap.”

The second thing that is weighing on me is that I recently sent some poems to the Buffalo News.  I grew up reading the poetry page, and always dreamt of being on it.  For some reason, though, it seemed a far-off hope.  Until the other day when I mustered the courage to send some pieces to the poetry editor.  I emailed him first with a couple questions and he was kind enough to respond, and then I sent off the poems.  Now, I have no idea how long his deliberation process takes, or how lucky I will be to be included, though he does favor folks from the Western New York area.  I also mentioned that I have a book out.  It is my hope that he publishes something, and I get a little local press.

Which is kind of the same thing with Rachel’s show.  I have some people giving me great feedback on my book who are Twitter followers, but it’s not really out there in my community.  It’s harder to market locally due to Covid right now, so anything that can help would be great.

Alas, anxiety.  Mostly, the anxiety of the wait.

I am no longer nervous to share my work like I was back in October when I went to my first Fourth Friday.  These days, I will scream it from the rooftop, if you’re willing to listen.  However, I hate the waiting, and the uncertainty that comes with that.  Usually I log my submissions and forget about them until I hear back, but I am obsessively checking my email for any word from the News.  Not to mention anxiously awaiting 830pm Saturday night when Rachel’s show airs.  (BTW-if you would like to check it out, it can be found on Facebook HERE.  This month’s featured is poet Oli Wiggins.)

So here I am, thinking of Rob, and wondering how he didn’t just lose his damn mind waiting.  I mean, I can barely stand a couple of weeks…a WHOLE YEAR?  Unacceptable.

The only way I can combat it right now is to just try to keep my mind busy.  When it wanders, it wonders.  Can’t have that at the moment.

Anyhoo…wish me luck.  Both opportunities would be huge for me in regards to marketing to my local community.  And I’ll tell you what, that is HARD.  I’m sure there’s a future blog post about it somewhere in my brain, but for now, I will just wait.

Dancing in the Dark

Last night, as I was dancing with depression, she said that I had no blog topic for today and that I should just take the day off and stay in bed.  She said a lot of things yesterday, and they all sounded pretty good.  By the end, I found myself huddled under a blanket doing worst-case-scenarios and having a literal screaming match in my head between Sane Brain and Crazy Brain.  After about an hour or so, I took my sleeping pills.  Sane Brain was getting quieter, and tired.  Crazy Brain was raring to go, and needed medical intervention.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.  I sat down to write, and briefly considered ignoring last night’s darkness, until I realized that it is Mental Health Month.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about breaking the stigma of mental health, using one of my diagnoses as a jumping off point each week.  I received some lovely feedback from family and friends.  I hope I broke a couple of stigmas for someone.  One can dream.

Anyway, it’s two years later and I write about my mental health all the time, and not just in my blog anymore.  I have had three articles published at Mental Health Crisis Angels, which is a peer support group, mental health blog, and all-around stigma bashing organization.  The first was about my struggles with Severe Anxiety Disorder.  The second, about tips to deal with anxieties, big and small.  And the last was about Trichotillomania, which I developed when I was eleven. 

And then there is my chapbook.  The whole thing is about chronic illness and, by default, depression.  Now, I have had symptoms of depression since I was around 8 years old, but it didn’t go full-blown until I was sixteen and diagnosed with diabetes, which is where my chapbook begins.  Some of the poems in it are new.  Some I wrote 15-20 years ago.  All of them are about battling the depression caused by illness and trauma. 

Then my blog, where I write about mental health on a personal basis.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared to share my experiences because of what other people would think of me.  I’ve had people call me a liar.  I’ve had people tell me I’m making up symptoms.  I’ve lost friends because I’m “too complicated.”  I’ve had to regain the trust of people I love.  I’ve worried about employers not wanting to hire me.  It seemed for a while that telling people about my illness made me lose them, so why share?

But then one day, about fifteen years ago, I posted something about Trichotillomania.  Just a logo or something from the TLC Learning Center, which was the only resource for TTM at the time.  A friend emailed me: she saw the logo, and decided to take the leap and tell me that she, too, had Trich.  I had known her for years, and had no clue.  She asked me not to tell anyone, as we had many mutual friends, and she was embarrassed.  I understood.  I, too, had been so ashamed of it, once.  However, it was that day that I realized we should not be ashamed-how much easier would my life have been, had I been able to confide in her?  How much less lonely would she have felt, knowing there was not only another person who was going though this, but someone who was already a friend?  Youth could have been a little different for us.  A little less lonely, at least.

Anyway, from that point on, I started sharing my experiences, opinions be damned.  I didn’t want to feel how I felt anymore.  I didn’t want to feel how my friend felt.  I wanted to stand up: for her, for myself, for everyone that was too scared. 

The stigma of mental health is, thankfully, changing rapidly.  Especially in our current climate, when people are getting whacked in the face with anxiety and depression on levels they have never known.  I still find solace in my professional-cynic status; I was anxious and depressed way before this whole shebang.  I will be when it’s over.  Right now, I’m kind of doing well because as I’ve said before, to me, the world has always been on fire.

So happy Mental Health Month to all of you.  It isn’t just those of us who live with mental illness that need to be celebrated and lifted up right now.  It’s all of us, because we are having a worldwide mental health crisis, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

Please please please, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy.

And So It Begins.

At the end of August, I finished the assembly of my chapbook.  I thought, as I always think with these things, that is was crap, so I sent it off to be read by my few trusted readers and the reviews came back raving.  So, the bravery that lives deep inside me came out to play, and it sent my little book off to a few prospective publishers.

In my search, I came across one company that I particularly liked.  They’re local, which delights me, and have published a couple books by a poet I like.  I did a little research on them and found that they were accredited though the Better Business Bureau, and a member of the Association of American Publishers.  The reviews I found were all 5 stars.  The interviews I read with the editor were good.  The articles I found about upcoming releases were great.  So, in October, I sent an inquiry to them as to whether or not they published chapbooks.

In January, I received a response, telling me that my book sounded interesting and to forward my manuscript for review.  The review process, they said, would take about three weeks.

Months passed.

A little over a week ago I decided to write an inquiry letter, which was stressful as I have never done such a thing.  Usually I log my submissions and let them sit there until I hear back, but I was on pins and needles over this particular publishing company.  I figured out how to sound polite and professional and sent a little note asking if they received my book and were still reviewing it, and wishing them all good health.

On April 20th, I received a reply: “It would be my pleasure to help you publish your poetry.”

After more research and discussion, it came to my attention that this was a hybrid press.  Meaning, it’s sort of a cross between traditional publishing and self-publishing.  I do have to pay certain fees, which bummed me out at first.  But then I made a pros and cons list.  Yes, it would cost a little money, but it’s a good way to get your first book out there, and establish your portfolio.  Plus, I have complete control over the design and layout.  And on top of that, I look at it as a learning experience-I’d pay for school, wouldn’t I?  And in the end, I will have my book, and be able to sell it, and make that money back.  I went to Mark with my concerns, afraid to ask him to finance me when we have so many other things that need our financial attention.  His reply?  “I’d pay anything to hold your book in my hands.”

So, here is my official announcement that I am in the process of publishing my chapbook with the press I wanted most.  I am already working on it and learning about the development.  I am excited.

I asked my goddaughter if I could use a photo she took for the cover, and she obliged.  When the publisher sent me the mock-up of the cover and interior document, that was probably the moment that the shock finally wore off.

See, I didn’t really believe it for a bit.  I didn’t believe that someone wanted to publish my stuff.  I was trying to talk myself out of it (“well, it’s a hybrid press so do they really like it, or do they just want my money?”) while Mark was trying to talk me into it (“people do not publish books they cannot sell and make money off-they think it’s good enough to sell.”)  Sahar helped, too, pointing out that I was getting more for my money, given the services offered and the effort and cost of self-publishing.  And it should be noted that submission periods for chapbooks are few and far between, so theoretically I could be querying this for years.  No.  That’s too much.  And yet, even after the decision was made, I didn’t believe it.

I didn’t believe it until I saw the cover.  Until I saw the page layout.  Then it became real.

Still, there exists that unbelieving part of me that just knows something will go wrong.  The money will fall though.  The finished product won’t be what I see in my head.  No one will buy it.

I talk myself into these worst-case scenarios, and I know it’s because of my anxiety.  I know it’s false, because mental illness is a liar, and everything will get worked out in the end.  So, despite my fears I will make this happen, and actualize one of my dreams.  The whole book is about fighting depression and anxiety-maybe I should take a note from my own page, and fight against all these voices in my head that tell me it isn’t good enough.  There is another voice, quiet yet persistent, that insists I am doing the right thing.  She is joyous and excited, and I hardly ever let her out to see the sun, but I hear her nonetheless.  It’s that voice I have to listen to, not those loud and demanding ones that say I’ll never do anything I set out to accomplish.  Those voices are wrong.  It is the small voice, always pushing me, always celebrating my accomplishments, that I need to pass the microphone to.

Anyway, in closing, I’m publishing my first book.  I’m scared, I’m excited…I’m hoping you buy it.

Plexiglas Panic

I mean, I was doing okay.  I was doing really good, all things considered.  Until last Friday when I went out.

First, I was in the hospital a few times last week, and saw the day to day changes they were making.  One day, there were suddenly tents outside.  Another, there was a fever checkpoint station and they gave me a mask to wear.  Then, there was tape on the floor and I had to stand six feet from the reception desk.  Then, one day, came the Plexiglas.

It was a huge barrier blocking reception.  Fine.  Ok.  Makes sense.  There was another one blocking triage.  Again, I get it, I guess, even though she was back and forth taking my temperature and blood pressure.  But when it really got bad was at the grocery store.

I have been going to the store without a problem…I have been obeying the tape on the floor telling me where to stand.  I wore a scarf last week to cover my face.  But Friday, I went a step further.  Mark got me some masks, because he is frankly terrified that I will get this thing, and had insisted I wear a mask whenever I am out.  Knowing he was probably right, I took a mask and a pair of latex gloves to the store.  The first problem was that it was hard to regulate my breathing with the mask.  The second problem was that it fogged up my glasses, making it impossible for me to see.  The third problem was that my brain was so focused on these two problems that the grocery list went out the window.

By the time I made it to the end I was gasping for air with a cart full of stuff I just grabbed and tossed in without thinking too much.  That’s when I saw it: Plexiglas.  One big slab of Plexiglas keeping the cashier safe.  From me.

It was a trigger, I guess.  Suddenly I was back in the hospital: I was sick, I was in pain.

As I paid, I was screaming in my head about how fast my heart was beating.  As I bagged my groceries, I started sweating.  I started getting paranoid that I would pass out, and someone would think I had the virus.  By the time I was loading the bags into the car, I was crying.  When I finally got in the car and shut the door, I started to scream.  I couldn’t stop.  I called Mark, screaming at him, needing him to help calm me down, but he thought I was angry or something and started screaming back.  After some confusion, he realized what was happening and tried to calm me down enough to the point of sobs, which was decidedly better than screaming.  Screaming in your car in a parking lot gets the cops called.  Sobbing only gets you weird looks. 

When the sobs subsided, and I was able to drive, I had to go to the pharmacy.  The store was empty, and I had given up on wearing the mask, so I was a little better, until I saw the Plexiglas at the counter.  It all started again.  I paid quickly and ran out the door and into the car.  Perhaps a cup of coffee would make me feel better?  Tim Hortons drive-thru is still open, so I headed over there and ordered my usual.  I pulled up to the window, where a blue gloved hand reached from below a newly installed Plexiglas shield to take my money.  I felt myself start to cry.  I held it together and got my coffee, and drove home, and collapsed in Mark’s arms, in tears.

I mean, I was doing okay.

My life hasn’t changed a whole lot:  I didn’t lose a job, my husband didn’t lose a job, I get to see my parents every day, and I run errands like I always did.  But I am missing things:  my people.   Friends, family, etc.  I am missing taking the kids places, like the playground especially.  I am missing going into a store for something other than groceries.  I am missing the hospital being a “safe” place. 

That last one is the root of all problems. 

I would walk into the hospital in the past and feel relief, before they gave me meds, before I even saw a doctor.  I would be relieved because I knew real relief was coming, and I was safe.  Any terrible things I was imagining, I was now protected from by the fortress of Mercy Hospital and the warrior-staff therein.  But now, I sense their fear, and it scares me in turn.  That’s what the Plexiglas is, more than protection from the virus-protection from the fear of contraction.

I told Sahar about the Plexiglas: she thought it was nuts.  Then, two days later she sent me a photo of her grocery store in Kentucky that had just installed it. 

It’s been a week now, and I am no longer having panic attacks, but I was facing some roadblocks, mask-wise.  Yesterday, Gov. Cuomo said that we have to start wearing masks in public.  Panicked, I messaged my aunt Mel who recently posted a photo of a mask she made and asked for help.  In less than 24 hours, I had my very own Wonder Woman mask.  It’s a good fabric, it fits, doesn’t fog up my glasses, and I haven’t panicked yet.

I mean, I was doing okay.  And I will again.  We all will.

Poetry Readings and Global Pandemics

A phone conversation from last week, between me and my therapist:

Her: How are you doing with all this coronavirus stuff?

Me: Well, my grandfather just died.  So, it hasn’t been priority one.

Her: I’m so sorry to hear that.

Me: It’s fine. 

Her: How are you dealing with this and all the life changes with the virus at the same time?

Me: I’m fine.  (Inner Monologue: To me, the world has always been on fire.  It’s almost comforting that others have taken notice.)

There’s a meme I’ve seen a couple of times about how people with depression and anxiety are handling this pandemic a little better than expected because we’re used to feeling like the world is ending.  Sometimes I feel like I am watching as my “healthy” people’s brains spiral out of control with worst case scenarios.  There’s a sort of sick amusement in it, a dark laughter-maybe something you can only understand if you’ve been looking though the goggles of depression for a long time.  They’re worried, but for once, I am not.  What happens will happen.  I will take precautions and all that, of course, but if I get sick or someone I love gets sick, I will deal with that.  Because the world has always been on fire.

And yet….

And yet here I sit on a Friday morning, consumed with anxiety.

Yes, Friday, not Monday when I usually write, but today, because today I am doing something kind of scary.  This is generating anxiety, and it is interesting to me how something small can create such emotions but a worldwide pandemic is leaving me cool-headed.

I have written before about the monthly poetry reading I go to; at least I think I have.  A brief synopsis: it is at a bookstore near my house once a month, and I started going in October.  I was nervous to read, I am always nervous to read, but have been forcing myself to do so for a variety of reasons.  Anyway, due to social distancing, this month’s meeting will be taking place on Facebook live.  To which I initially thought: COOL! I can do this from the comfort of my own office??  No anxiety for me this month!

So, I decided to enter the poetry contest they were holding.  You had to take a line from poet Sophie Robinson’s “Art in America,” and use it as the first line of your new poem.  I chose “honestly, I am sick of helping Jesus count the days…”  I wrote about 30 lines.  I sent it off to the moderator.

Then she posts on the Facebook page saying that if we want, we can record our video for if we win the contest, and also for the open mic portion.  So, I do that.  I send it off.  Then, I go to the event page.

There were 400 people invited, and at least 40 going.  A quick scan of those attending found the editor of the poetry page of the Buffalo News.  I choked on my iced coffee.

There have never been more than maybe 15 people at these readings.  I was expecting 15 people, like 7 of which go monthly and whom I am comfortable sharing my stuff with.  But no.  When I panicked and told Sahar, she said she would watch, too.  So, I’m sure I will be texting her as we go tonight…it’s a distant moral support, but its still support. 

So here I am bugging out over something little.  And tomorrow, when I write the second half of this post in which I tell you how it went, I am sure I will not be anxious about it anymore.

Monday.  I didn’t write on Saturday as intended because I was in the ER, which was a whole story unto itself.  They are setting up tents outside, there is a fever checkpoint, and no one would get near me.  It was bizarre.  I also didn’t write on Sunday because I was recuperating and hanging with the kiddos.  So, here we are on Monday.

Halfway though the reading, Mark came into the room and asked to watch with me.  This is very much not his style, and as we sat listening to the featured reader, Meghann Boltz, I could tell he was simply trying to be interested for my sake.  However, when she finished and the moderator went on to announce the poetry contest winner, he held my hand and his breath as they announced that I won.  We both let out unexpected cheers, and he hugged me.  Then he made me play my video for him, and told me it was wonderful.

Since I won, my video was posted on the page and has received around 350 views.  This is mind-blowing to me, of course, as I was so worried about sharing with the same small group I usually do, but ended up sharing my poetry with a much larger audience.  I no longer feel the anxiety that plagued me on Friday.  Not because I won, and feel validated, but because I did the scary thing and lived to tell the tale.

I guess it is easier, somehow, for me to look at the big scary thing right now.  I have been looking for silver linings in all of this and have found so many.  I am able to wrap my head around such a huge and terrifying thing, because I am used to wrapping my head around huge and terrifying things on a daily basis (of course, I make them huge in my head.)  I am looking to reports out of China for hope, and I am finding little rays of it.  I am looking forward to the day when I run out of my house and embrace every person I see. 

In the meantime, I will do things like write poems and stories and blogs and lose myself in my words, because this is how I process life.  Each of us need to find a way to deal with what is happening, and the anxiety it is creating in our worlds.  Still, you must remember there is hope.  There are bright spots.  This will end.  We just have to take it one day at a time.  Or one poetry reading at a time, as the case may be.

Playing God

Once upon a time, I was an actress.

There’s like a mountain of backstory involving my ten-year theatrical career that I will definitely write about at some point in my life but let’s just sum it up for right now with that one sentence.

One day I get a call from a guy I know that runs a company that was putting on a series of short plays, and he and one of the directors were looking for someone to play a role in one of them, and they thought I would be perfect.  This was the first time I had actually been called and asked to play a part without an audition or anything so I felt like hot shit for about ten minutes and then started panicking because the show was in less than two weeks.  I don’t remember how many pages it was, but I do remember staying up late reading it over and over and over every night for a week.  It wasn’t a difficult part, but for me acting was never that hard, honestly.  I was a pro at make-believe as a child, and I have no problem slipping into another character.  Also, they wanted me to play God. 

Literal God, as in Lord and Savior.   A God who was female, and progressive, and schooling a Christian on evolution vs. intelligent design.  At the time, I was a liberal, feminist stage manager, so it wasn’t that far of a stretch for me to play a broadminded creator of the universe. 

Anyway, I learned the lines and did the part and got the applause.  I did it in about a week.  It was stressful, but I went at it like a beast and accomplished the goal.

So why, a decade later, and I freaking out right now?

I wrote this poem called Halloween that you can find here.  It was the first poem I had published since I was a teenager, and I went and entered it in a Halloween poem contest at my local book store on a whim because the prize was Stephen King books, and I love adding to that branch of my library.  Then after I did that, I read a little more accurately and found that the prize is also an open mic slot.  Which means that I have to come up with material to possibly read in front of a crowd.  Now, as stated by my God story, it isn’t so much the audience or the performance aspect that bothers me.  It’s the choosing of the poems, which is a direct reflection on myself as a writer, and the mingling with the people, which I was pretty good at back in my theater days but not so much anymore. 

First there’s the poems.  I have a very love/hate relationship with my work.  The ones I don’t like are always the ones others like and the ones I love are never picked up by anybody.  I don’t want to get up there and go on about a bunch of stuff I care about but no one else understands, but I also don’t want to read stuff that I think sucks just so others applaud. 

Then, there’s the mingling.  I went to this poetry group last month with Beth and I was not too nervous to read but as soon as it was over and people started talking, I clammed right up and needed some air.  I used to OWN rooms like that!  I think back to my first experience in theater when I was sixteen and joined a youth troupe that met on Tuesday nights.  I was scared that first time, but I made myself go back.  But there was Rose, you see.  Rose was this woman that ran the group, and she made me feel so welcome, instantly.  I knew I belonged there, so making myself go back was easier.  I don’t know if I belong in this group.  I want to, as it is right near my house and I have been desperately wanting to connect with other writers outside of the Twitterverse.  But I have to push myself to go, solo this time.

I also think it’s a costume party, which I hate because you never know who’s really going to wear a costume.  I usually wear black so I’ll just go with that and hide a witch hat in my purse in case of emergencies, I think.

Oh, and this is tomorrow.  I don’t have two weeks to prepare like when I played God, I’ve only got a few hours and I still don’t know what poems I’m reading.  What am I doing blogging?  I have to go figure this out.