Keeping Impossibility

A desk by a window. A view of snow. Birds perched along telephone wire, no longer in use. Squirrels terrorize the yard, skunk paw prints scurry, an opossum skulks.

For more than two years I have lived in this apartment, the longest I have ever lived anywhere in my adult life. Renewing a third year lease became a milestone, a shift, a promise to foundation, to stay. I can’t pretend it wasn’t terrifying, that something out of old habit didn’t creep up into my psyche and emotional sphere to say, “Eject! Abort! Mission failure! Go! Don’t stay! Move.”

I didn’t move, though. I stayed. I put Roxy on the lease. I held my hearth, my home, and learned harder to call it mine.

What I look back at when I see 2017 is a year full of gratitude, challenge, and growth. So much so I am almost baffled and humbled by it. The year led to graces I can only now see on the other end of it. Long, strange, significant (not unlike figures).

It began with a 16-week Chemistry course, January-May, a requirement for my grad program. I showed up, the only elementary education candidate in a classroom full of nursing students, English Literature degree in tow, published poet acclaim. What was this tiny poet doing in a chemistry lab for 16 weeks?

Learning to love chemistry, it appears. On our first exam I scored a 73, much higher than the class average, and much higher than I expected. By midterm I averaged a B.  At the end of the 16 weeks, I created and conducted my own lab experiment (d=m/v) and passed an American Chemistry Society exit exam.

More so than learning about chemistry, though, this class taught me how to take tests, something I have been afraid of for the last 7 years.

Chemistry also taught me how to love, hate, and solve mathematical formulas, which transferred to the next 10-weeks of Physics I took online over the summer, yet another grad school science requirement. I got a B in that class, too, and realized I could solve the math problems posed about the earth and the stars with ease because of the preceding 16 weeks of chemistry. I was learning how to apply numbers to the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the world in a new way. In a bigger, and smaller, and more complex, and more beautiful way.

In August, I took four content exams. Literacy. Mathematics. Science/Social Studies. Art/Phys Ed. I passed the latter two on the first try, without studying. I scored 88% on the content area of Science. I was proud of that.

In October, I passed the Literacy exam.

I continued to fail Math.

What gnaws at me is the expectation of failure, of loss, of the inability to change one’s outlook or position in the world because so much of my life over the past 7 years has been rooted in loss, of varying forms. I planned to scurry, like the skunks in my yard. I planned to have numerous backup plans, labyrinths of retreat, backpedaling, change of course, rapid quick decisions, all in the name of survival, getting through, holding course, presenting stability.

I planned to fail the math content exam on December 28th. But I didn’t, and didn’t really. I aimed, I hoped, I studied, I told people I studied but spent afternoons watching Christmas movies instead, paralyzed by the weight of what I needed to do. I solved math problems in a booklet on occasion, till the problems got harder and harder. The best I could do was spend two days after Christmas taking multiple practice exams online in an apartment full of joy and good cheer leftover from the holiday, with the sun beaming in through my southern facing windows.

I like the formula for surface area of a triangular prism a lot (SA=bh+2ls+lb). I like unwrapping a cylinder. I like thinking about what changes the ratio of area vs. perimeter of irregular shapes, and why, sometimes, if the numbers are plugged in wrong, there are an infinite number of possibilities.

My friend Joseph said the Democrats should stop saying science is real. He is right. Science is unreal. It is magnificent. It is the possibility of impossibility.

I did not think it would be possible for me to pass this math exam and move forward in my elementary education teaching career. But we cannot lose faith in ourselves. We cannot lose faith in our possibility—in our beautiful, gorgeous impossibilities.

This blog is called Snails Are Good for the Environment, Too because there are so many people in this world who expect our lives to be impossible, sometimes even ourselves.

When I told people I passed the math exam, they told me they knew that I would.

I didn’t.

That is the great betrayal of the self. We doubt our own possibility.

To have achieved something so great—in a year so hellbent, politically, on telling us we are impossible—is progress. It is resistance of the most personal and the most dangerous and the most effective kind.

Keep your impossibility alive.



On Long Form, Collective Unconscious, and Light in August

Reading Light in August by William Faulkner makes me pine for long form, the craft of the long sentence or the novel. The book is emblematic of a genre of American literature beginning to delve into the theme of collective unconscious narrative voice, especially slave narratives and African American voice. The character Christmas in the book, who is half black, experiences what can only be described as collective post-traumatic stress from his ancestor’s slave history, a narrative that Toni Morrison perfects in her novel Beloved fifty-five years later. It is fun to see the theme make an appearance in Faulkner’s writing in 1932 and hold a torch through the literary century to appear again in the 1980s.

Below is a glimpse into memory as Faulkner begins its navigation in the first paragraph of Chapter 6 of Light in August (a beautiful gem of a long sentence), followed by the mirror concept of rememory in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. An incomplete critical comparison, but literary nerdery on a sunny day at the end of March, nevertheless:

“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick stootbleakened by more chimneys than its own, set in a grassless cinderstrewnpacked compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentiary or a zoo, where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the beak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears” (Page 119, William Faulkner, Light in August, Vintage Books 1989).

Faulkner_signature“I used to think to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened” (Toni Morrison, Beloved).

Happy long form, Saturday!

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.

Communication and navigation create 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.

Coyotes 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