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Why I Write Today

I come home singing with the last night
and the first morning star
~Natalie Goldberg, from her poem Top of My Lungs


This morning I ask myself why I still write poems and if it's worth the time. But I know that poetry is part of my story. Words inside my lungs, part of the millions of alveoli. I breathe in words, and exhale them in sentences cottoned together as clouds that don't need to be explained. Someone will gaze at the clouds I breathe out and feel enveloped. Sending out poems to get published is one of the stumbling blocks of my life. Other poets have persistence but I peter out, return to myself and leave the breathing words in my notebook. Finished, unfinished, asleep, poems dreaming of attention. In 5th grade I wrote a Christmas poem at the behest of our teacher, desperate to make the lines rhyme and be chosen for publication in our 2-page school newspaper. No, I didn't win that one heroic spot of words typed and read aloud in class. It wasn't me. I was left dying…

Finding The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates in Chicago

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The Beautiful Struggle. An eloquent title for a coming-of-age memoir by someone who grew up in Baltimore during the Crack epidemic in the 1980s, an epidemic that we now know was cruelly engineered by a powerful team--the CIA and the Contras in Nicaragua--to take down urban Black America.

The original reporter who brought this information to light in 1996, Gary Webb, was discredited by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times after his investigation appeared in the San Jose Mercury News. His journalism career was ruined, and the truth about crack in America wasn't fully revealed until after Webb took his life by suicide in 2004.

A survivor of this epidemic who was raised, along with six siblings, during this time tells his personal story and the story of his family in his book The Beautiful Struggle: Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Even though Coates is well known for his most recent book Between the World and Me, as well as his writing for The Atlantic, I chose to read

The Personal is Still Political

The personal is political. This phrase keeps rushing along the river of my brain, then finds itself at a standstill on placid lake water beneath black clouds. My work as a psychotherapist means that I'm reminded daily how the new U.S. president's divisive and cruel rhetoric reverberates and affects women who have been disrespected, harrassed and sexually abused. How people of color, the LGBTQ community and immigrants feel even more threatened and frightened than they felt before. And how some white people are content thinking that this new regime is going to take care of them and put others in their place.

I'll be honest: There are some days when I don't know how to contain my own fears and fatigue, and I want to hibernate.  I want to run from helping others in pain and from what my country is becoming. I want to give in because it's too hard to see and feel the good.

But I take some deep breaths and remember that the commander in chief's racism, misogyny, lie…

Standing in Difficult Music

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Difficult Music by Melissa Tuckey 
We sleep with intention
We close our eyes and what enters the dark place that is the body begins repair
Like paper from lint we carry in pockets we open cautiously one to the other accordion of dust on the air
The violins of sleep play through us We tunnel through houses open doors looking for whatever it is we lost in daylight
River's flashing current Body's bright mill turning grain to dust ~From Tenuous Chapel, ABZ Press, 2013
Difficult Music. Could this be the title to the theme song for my life? That's melodramatic, I know, but nonetheless, this title pulled me in and the first stanza sucked me into its beautiful whirlpool. I'm already willing to drown in this "dark place" so I can be healed. That I can sleep with intention and trust what enters the dark place that is the body so it can begin to repair, well, that good news is a salve to my spirit. 
No, this isn't a proper book review, but I offer it all the same. I&…

What Can You Give Up Knowing?

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What Can You Give Up Knowing? 
A Writing Prompt from Natalie Goldberg's book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir 

I can give up knowing my childhood phone number: 532-6350. No local area codes used back then. I can give up knowing the birthdays of high school friends: Grace/September 18, Tricia/December 11, Margi/March 10, Kathi/March 19, Diana/May 12, Rosie/April 4. But these numbers continue to stay with me, covered underneath an old grey wool blanket at the back of my brain, resting there in case I need this information. I'm not sure why I easily memorize phone numbers and birthdates, yet can't seem to put numbers together in a mathematical way. The truth is that I've tried to give up this information, and it just won't vanish or vaporize.

And I don't know that this is possible, but I'd like to give up remembering the famous photo of children, including a naked girl, running down a muddy road away from napalm bombs in South Vietnam on…

Say Goodnight Gracie

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Sometimes when I lose something, it's not the pain of "I never appreciated what I had"---instead it's the pain of "I really valued this connection and now it's broken. Or at least it will never be the same." So it was with a tiny teaching job I had at an addiction clinic. Since September 2010, I've showed up there most every Wednesday, barring illness, travel for poetry readings and visiting family, and the holidays that fell on the Wednesdays when they were closed. Before the tiny teaching job, I worked there as a full-time addiction counselor from May 6, 2009 to July 30, 2010. Yes, I still remember the exact dates.

In my most recent capacity in the tiny teaching job, I went there to teach patients about trauma and its strong link to addiction for 1 hour per week. I used a curriculum I wrote, with the help of my wise and trauma-literate therapist husband, and went through the 8-part series numerous times, refining it and adjusting it for the patien…

La La La, Doo Doo Doo Doo

Music. It's music that sustains me. It's been this way since I was young, when starting at age 6, I would beg my parents to borrow their transistor AM radio so I could listen to Top 40 songs. Music poured into my ears. Music to drown out the yelling, the kitchen clatter of slamming cabinets. Music swam into my brain, passing through the caverns of stalagmites and stalagtites to quiet the elephant stampede that rocked from left to right.

Music rendered me helpless in the best possible way. Helpless as in lost in the sweet cacophony of melody, harmony, guitars, piano, drums and lyrics, all dancing in my head. Better than sugarplums, music was the salve for nerves frayed early on. Like a warm butternut squash soup in winter, music spooned itself into my anxious chest, soothed me and stimulated my creative dream world all at once.

Audre Lorde, I think, said that poetry saves lives, and many have testified to the truth of that statement. Besides books, music saved my life, seeing a…