Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keepin' it Real in 2010

Happy New Year!

If my fantastically superstitious grandmother were alive, she would insist that we all eat cabbage and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to ensure a prosperous year. I don't happen to have those handy, but luckily, I found some rum and pineapple juice while foraging for them. My New Year's Eve cocktail might not make me prosperous, but it tastes a hell of a lot better than black-eyed peas and cabbage, so I'll take my chances. Cheers, friends!

Here's to a brand spanking new year of keepin' it real. That's my resolution. God help me.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions in general. It's not that I don't support the notion of improving oneself. Certainly, I do. This blog is a resolution to better my life, but it wasn't one I made on December 31st. Forcing my Cheeto-muching, Chocodile-loving self to exercise daily was a resolution I made, too, but it also wasn't a promise I vowed because a holiday told me, too. That's just asking for it.

Case in point: I'll head to our local park to run this weekend, and all the fired-up "resolutors" will be there, crowding the regulars like myself off the trails, in their effort to fulfill their New Year's promises. I'll cheer them on and hope they make it, but the fact is, I probably won't see them in the park after a couple of weeks. That's how it goes. New Year's resolutions set us up for failure.

So I must be a glutton for punishment for making one, but to be fair to myself (since this is self-indulgent blathering, after all), it's one I've been contemplating for a long time.

I'm resolving to keep it real here on the porch, to put myself out on the writing ledge day in and day out, and let the cards fall where they may.

I love this blog, this foray into the writing world, and I relish the support from readers and friends. It's been incredibly fulfilling the past couple of months to romp and roam about this writing playground. But I'm the new kid here; as such, I'm still looking for my writing niche.

See - I don't know what I want to play with just yet.

Some days I feel more jovial than others, and I hope to make my readers laugh with me (or, um, usually at me. No shortage of material there). The next day, I might feel frustrated or mad at the world, and I could post a poem that reflects those emotions. The day after that, I might write a piece that was inspired by something I heard or witnessed in aisle three of WalMart. I simply don't know. But isn't that the beauty of the blank page? Of life? To always have a fresh outlook, to embrace whatever fills our pages that day?

No matter what I do, though, I want it to be honest. The truth matters to me. If I don't keep my voice authentic, then why bother to put it out there at all?

In doing that, I might step on some toes occasionally. I hate that part of the process. I do.

In a college creative writing course long ago, I wrote a poem about one of the most shameful experiences I'd had as a child.

My cousin and I were playing in my grandparents' yard, and the neighbor on the other side of the fence was singing a hymn as she hung her laundry. Young, cocky and stupid, my cousin and I crouched on the other side of the fence and began to mimic her, our voices cracking as we howled out notes crafted in cruelty.

The woman never looked over the fence or said a word to us. She just stopped singing, gathered her laundry and went inside as we snickered. A couple of years later, my grandmother remarked that she missed the neighbor's lovely voice, that she never sang anymore because some "mean kids" had made fun of her.

I felt horrible. Yet I never apologized to the neighbor. I never told my grandmother or anyone that I was the one who had robbed her of her voice, until a poem assignment in college provided the opportunity.

I poured out my story in poetry, my shame trapped forever in print. Much to my dismay, my professor asked me to read it to the class. It wasn't easy to face my peers and read about the horrid thing I had done. I saw the appalled looks of my classmates. Most remained quiet, but one classmate didn't. Seething, he shoved his chair back from the group table and towered over me. He called me a racist, a fool, a bitch. His violent reaction shocked me, and the words he spat in my direction were knives slicing through me.

Shaken, I uttered an apology, dropped the poem and ran from the room and down the hall, where I burst into sobs. My professor, a poet, ran after me, and when she caught me, she took my hands in her own.

"Why are you running away?" she said.

"My poem," I said, "I didn't mean for it to hurt him like that. I didn't mean it."

She looked at me for a long time, and then she said smiled and said quietly, "Congratulations."

I couldn't have heard her correctly.

"What?" I asked, confused.

"Jennifer," she said, "Your poem evoked strong emotions. Those words on that page made him feel so strongly, so deeply, that he couldn't even sit in his chair. And even if it was a bad reaction, it was so much better than no reaction.

"Do you write for nothing?" she continued. "Do you hope no one will feel your pain, or laugh with you, or experience your shame? You wrote about that experience for a reason. You needed that reaction.

"Congratulations," she said again. "You're a writer. THIS is what we do. THIS is why we do it. Now come back to class and dig back into it. Don't ever be afraid to put yourself out there. Don't ever be afraid of the reaction. Seek it."

Hesitantly, I allowed her to lead me back to the table, where the classmate embraced me and apologized for his extreme reaction. I apologized for the horrible thing I had done as a child. And we all felt like we'd been to group therapy.

But the poet's words stayed with me. They haunted me recently, when I heard them echoed in the words of a trusted friend, who told me I was holding back here.

I wanted to deny it, but it's true. And I can't have that, not here on the playground, which was made for roaming and romping. If I don't get real here, on my own blog, where can I?

So I hope, my sweet, supportive friends, that you will stick with me, if and when my work doesn't always make you laugh (though I still hope to do plenty of that, too)!

(Or maybe I need a different blog for all of my different personalities...hmmmm).

The point is, life is too short, too precious, for any of us to hold back our truest selves. Like me, I challenge you to embrace who you really are. Let it pour from you, like words to the page.

May your 2010 be a happy and healthy one for you and those you hold dear.


  1. Great story about you poem, Jenn.

  2. oh gosh, this totally reminded me of a similar incident. my cousin and i were playing in my grandmother's back yard when the family who lived behind her offered us bowls of homemade ice cream. neel and i ate one bite and laughing... poured the rest over the fence into their yard. why??? i don't remember. but the incident has stayed with me all these years. what punks we were:/
    happy new year, jenn!