Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Nourishes Us

My therapist dumped me a couple of years ago.

It sucked and I mention it only because it's important to realize that when getting help with our mental health, sometimes people aren't a good fit. For a long time, I felt like it was "my fault" that she stopped treating me, but looking back I realize that she wasn't capable of helping me. I needed a different kind of help, more support to help with my chronic forgetfulness, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. She couldn't do that for me.

However, she did give me one piece of advice that stuck with me. We were discussing how regular exercise and healthy eating habits could positively affect my mental health. I balked, getting defensive, saying that I've never been good at taking care of myself that way, and that I'd never be good at it.

She paused and said to me, "Laura, it's like you don't believe you deserve to take in what nourishes you."

The poetry of this sentiment floored me. My mind began sifting through the layers of meaning as the tears began building. I felt seen and vulnerable and scared. What did it mean that I didn't believe I deserved to be nourished? Why did I run myself down without refueling? Why did I take in the crap of the world and expect to keep going?

Since then I've found a new therapist who has really helped me dig into some of these issues. For me the reasons I didn't want to nourish myself stemmed trauma caused by a sexual assault, my experiences with religion, realizing I'm queer, and some other things. I still struggle with these issues along with perfectionism and negative self-talk. Not only did I not believe I deserved to eat healthily, I also didn't believe I deserved kindness, forgiveness, and even love. But I do. We all do. I learned/am still learning that.

During the election, I found myself feeling how I did before: strung out, fearful, completely drained of energy and motivation. When Trump was elected, I feared I would fall into an even deeper depression. Being pregnant forced me to confront these feelings right away; I couldn't risk falling back into the deep depression I felt before. It wasn't just me on the line now. I wasn't just nourishing myself. I'm so grateful that my experience of motherhood has helped me realize I need to take care of myself too. I feel like the opposite is often true for many parents, especially mothers.

Spending time with these guys feeds my spirit!
When I scroll through my Facebook feed or talk to friends or to Sal, I recognize this look of burnout, of fear, of building depression and near-constant anxiety. It started me thinking about nourishment again.

Then I read an article on Medium entitled "How to #StayOutraged" Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for The Resistance" by lawyer and feminist Mirah Curzer. In this piece, Cruzer discusses how important self-care is as an activist. Getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, seeing a therapist, being in nature, and spending time with people we love are all incredibly important acts that must be included in your activism:
"...this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government. You need a strong foundation from which to fight, so take care of the basics."
Healthy snacks = Activism!
I must point out that these "basics" are not so basic to everyone. Having the time to take care of oneself is a privilege. I'm grateful every day that I can afford healthy food, have time to go for a walk, have good health insurance, and have a great therapist. But rather than feeling guilty because so many people don't have the ability to do this kind of self-care, I do it anyway. That's how we leverage our privilege, whatever it may be.

Consider your own privilege when taking care of yourself and feel grateful when you do. Gratitude is how we fight off the guilt of privilege. Make it a part of your activism. Radically love yourself. Radically nourish yourself.

So, what are some things you can do to take care of yourself? This is simple. Regular hygiene, a good night's sleep, and eating your vegetables is a great start. Also, praise yourself when you do these things. Why? Because we make ourselves feel like shit when we don't, so why not do the opposite and pat ourselves on the back when we do?

You can also do little things like listen to music that feeds our souls, read poetry and novels that inspire us, take a few minutes to do a mindfulness exercise, or complement ourselves. These are all big parts of self-care.

Need some more specific examples? Here's what I've been doing:

  • Cooking healthy & delicious meals for myself and Sal
  • Drinking half-caff coffee so I can sleep well at night
  • Taking my medications and seeing my therapist
  • Reaching out to friends and family for social interaction
  • Spending time just playing with my son
  • Going to a support group for new moms
  • Keeping my home clean and organized so I feel sane
  • Reading poetry about motherhood
  • Reading Senator John Lewis' autobiographical trilogy March

That last one is truly inspiring. Looking at the adversity that Black Americans faced for centuries and learning more about the Civil Rights Movement really fed my spirit. They literally faced death when they marched. Many people today still face death when they march. My privilege very much insulates from these dangers, but that just makes me more grateful and inspired. I think we can all learn from and be inspired by our Civil Rights Leaders, leaders in the fight for LGBT rights, Workers' Rights - whatever speaks to you.

So what are you doing to take care of yourself? Or what do you want to be doing? What do you aspire to do?  What nourishes you? Start with the basics and build from there. Let's crowdsource a list of self-care ideas and inspire one another!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Last 599 Days

I haven't updated my blog in 1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks, and 5 days. So much has happened—in the world and in my world—since then.

When you haven't spoken to a friend in a while, it makes it more difficult to call them. It's a strange paradox that you have more to say to someone you talk to all the time, but it's true. The difference is context: someone you talk to every day knows what is going on in your life. They ask questions about the book you are reading and how your kid's piano recital went, and vice versa.

Last year I had a number of personal and health problems. I only posted three times last year, so let's play catch-up real quick. Here's a list of things that have happened since my last post:

  • I lost several large freelance writing & teaching contracts.
  • I suffered from severe depression and anxiety including a suicidal period last January & February.
  • I finished a skills class in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • I finished a partial hospitalization program (PHP) last March.
  • I finished an intensive outpatient program (IOP) last April & May.
  • It took 8 months of trying, but I got pregnant last April. 
  • I worked my ass off over the summer to get mentally and physically healthier. 
  • I got gestational diabetes in October 2016. 
  • I gave birth to a son in December 2016. His online name is Jello. 
  • Jello was born with fluid in his lungs, which meant he had to stay in the NICU for 4 days including Christmas Day. He is fine now.
  • Sal and I have been holed up for all of January 2017 keeping Jello alive and learning how to be parents.

Looking back at this list it's no wonder I only updated this blog three times. 2016 has been a fucking hard year. The political climate toward the end of 2016 also took a toll on my mental health, but thankfully the pregnancy forced me to take better care of myself than I would have otherwise.

So basically I've spent the better part of the last year learning and practicing life skills and coping skills to manage my anxiety. I'm on new medication that keeps me from going off the deep end and enables me to actually use the skills rather than just be stuck in bed all day.

We don't like to talk about mental health in this country. However, with the election of Donald Trump to office, many people have begun to feel the kind of intense anxiety that I have dealt with on a daily basis most of my life. It occurred to me last night that I have skills that might help people deal with their anxiety. That's why I'm back.

I'm also back because writing is what saves me.

I have a lot of ideas on how to use this space for #TheResistance as well. I hope to start an interview series on the intersection of art and activism. I might feature guest posts by other writers, artists, and activists who are helping us #resist the current administration. I will write like a motherfucker for you. That is my goal.

My son has been sleeping for two hours. I have a few thank you notes to send. There is a bowl of cottage cheese and pineapple on my coffee table waiting for me to eat it. Life calls. More soon.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Summer Digs

this is where the poemagic happens, folks. at least, i hope it will be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Poet Seeks Cohort for Collaboration, Improvisation, and General Shenanigans

I'm currently reading (well, listening to the audiobook of) Amy Poehler's memoir Yes Please. I already loved her, and now my love has reached new depths thanks to her honest, heartfelt prose, hilarious take on everything, and exceptionally useful life advice.

She talks a lot about improv comedy and comedy writing. I find these subjects endlessly fascinating. I watch quite a bit of television, and I'm intrigued by the TV-script-writing process. In Poehler's experience, writing is a collaboration with a silly-sports-like quality and an anything-goes attitude. Funny people gather around and pound out a script as fast as possible. Sometimes they start by throwing out jokes, each one trying the best the preceding until one wins. Improvisation is also a collaborative game of sorts that takes the writing process and makes it live through its physical embodiment on stage.

I did a bit of both back in high school drama club. I still love improv games, but haven't played any in a while. I almost never write collaboratively nowadays. All of this got me thinking - why don't poets do more of this? Seriously, why not?

Poets used to be performing storytellers, minstrels and bards who roamed the countryside singing and reciting heroic ballads and epic poems. Modern literary movements, such as the Beats and Slam Poetry, have incorporated performance into their artistic milieu. And with regard to poetic improvisation, the Dadaists pioneered found poetry and automatic group writing a la the exquisite corpse.  I'm certain there are other current movements that have improvisational and performance-oriented facets, I just don't know about them. And much of what I'm saying here is just my train of though, not a well-researched examination.

Another aspect of these kinds of movements involves the formation of poetry guilds - groups of poets who worked with and alongside one another, often united by social and/or artistic cause. They bolster each other, promote one another's work, read together, writing together, live together, socialize together.

I want one. A poetry cohort. Specifically, a cohort of local poets who want to get together regularly and do things like write together (parallel and collaboratively), go to readings, host readings, host salons, experiment with other forms of art, experiment with media (I really want to write a show about poets for YouTube), and pretty much be up for all kinds of poetic tomfoolery!

If you're interested in forming a poetry cohort with me, then comment here, shoot me an email, send a singing telegram, contact me telepathically, or send an owl. Then let's get together (yeah yeah yeah!) and do poetry. We'll figure out what "do poetry" means as we go.

I'm considering putting an ad on Craigslist...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

List of Miscellaneous Musings

I have sent 41 submissions in 2014: 18 pending, 14 form rejections, 7 personal rejections, and 2 acceptances. My goal for the year is 50. I  might surpass it, I might not.

Here is one of my acceptances: two blackout poems at Luna Luna.

Poets on the Coast was this past weekend. It was lovely and I wrote quite a few poems, one that's pretty much finished.

The 11th issue of Weave Magazine is out. It's awesome.

I continue to work on the manuscript of blackout poems. I recently wrote ten more.

Tonight's dinner: popcorn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Jessica Piazza

taken by photographer: Rich Prugh
Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections with Red Hen Press: Interrobang (winner of the AROHO 2011 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize and the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize) and Obliterations (with Heather Aimee O'Neill, forthcoming) as well as a chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press.) She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. She co-founded Bat City Review and Gold Line Press and is a contributing editor for The Offending Adam and a screener for the National Poetry Series. She teaches for the Writing Program at USC and the online MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Laura Davis: Where do you write? Paint us a word picture. Put us there. And that other place you like. 

Jessica Piazza: I think I can write anywhere, but I've probably done my best work out in the world; in coffee shops and that sort of thing. I like the white noise. I like remembering I’m not alone in the world, and that these words will eventually belong to people who aren’t me. I like the expectation that I am somewhere for the sole purpose of doing work and I will not go home until I’ve done some.

Of course, like for so many of us, the Internet kicks my ass and distracts me. But there’s a coffee shop called Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa in Culver City where there’s no WIFI during busy hours, and that’s really helpful as a buffer against procrastination. (Though I wasn’t able to write my dissertation chapters there! The Internet is key for research in my world.) But anyway, it’s a tiny place with these burlap sacks and barrels with amazing coffee beans and such, and it smells good in there. Also, the chairs and café tables and cramped space are actually a little uncomfortable and – is it just me? – I feel like being slightly uncomfortable in a work space actually helps me be productive. I don’t get too placated or drowsy because of the environment, which makes me remember why I’m there and what I’m supposed to be doing.

LD: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it? 

JP: There was a fun one I did a while back that went pretty quickly, despite a multi-layered creation process. It was a piece for The Book of Scented Things, an anthology project from The Literary House Press. Contributors were sent a tiny vial of a perfume and asked to use it as an inspiration for a poem. The perfume they sent me was called Ophelia, which couldn’t be more perfect for several reasons. The obvious one is, well, Shakespeare! But the other is that I was working on a chapbook at the time, a series of ekphrastic poems based on famous visual artworks, and I love Millias’ painting “Ophelia”. I thought it would be an interesting crossover to write a poem that would work for both the anthology and the chapbook, so I researched the perfume online to discover what the notes were, and tries to incorporate some of that information into the poem about the painting. It was especially fun to try to find a place for the scent notes I loved in the perfume like orange, musk and lily. (And I ended up wearing that perfume at my wedding a few months later, which is pretty cool.) It was fun to use so many bits of inspiration (the art, the perfume, Hamlet) and synthesize them into one piece, especially by turning the different sensory images on their heads, as when I used the orange scent from the perfume to describe the light in the painting. Anyway the painting is resplendent with flora and so getting some of that scent/image synesthesia going was pretty easy.

The anthology will be out really soon, and the chapbook – This is not a sky – is now available for pre-order from Black Lawrence Press.

LD: What writing implement do you wield and why? 

The implement I try to wield the most often is bravery. I’m not kidding. Sure, it’s not physical, but it’s the single tool that most helps me write. 

If you want to get literal, though, I can only write on a computer. I know that sounds super uncreative and not artsy at all. In fact, I have fantastic daydreams of scribbling in a beautiful journal in fantastic and serene settings. But the truth is I have the worst handwriting on earth, and when I try to write stuff by hand I can’t even read it back most of the time. Also, because I so often write in form, moving stuff around is kind of key to my process. I am not a huge reviser of my poetry after the fact; my process is a very intricate and time-consuming process of revision as I write. Once I have a fully crafted piece it generally doesn’t undergo too much change, especially not when it’s a metrical or formal poem, but that’s because by then I will have spent a lot of creative energy getting it right in the first place. And without the computer this process is a mess. On paper I basically end up with pages of scribbles and arrows and a hot mess I can’t make anything of. 

So, I guess you can say that much like the rules of formal poetry itself, the organization that the computer offers me allows my craziness to find a proper shape. 

LD: How long have you been writing? What’s the first thing you remember feeling good about having written? 

JP: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I won a poetry contest in fourth grade. It was a holocaust poetry contest, in fact, and my poem went like this (from what I can recall): 

The bad ones come bringing destruction and death 
and freely the black spiders roam 

For love is gone in this dreary place 
concentration camp is now your home. 

Jewish people, anyone different, 
Why are you killed needlessly? 

Because of one man, one’s man’s evil, 
You are never the same, you shall see. 

But there is one small glimmer of hope 
that can’t be seen easily. 

If all prejudiced people would learn to love 
then everyone would be free

Deep, right? Who knew that a fourth grader had all the answers to solving the tragedy of genocide? HA! But I remember being really proud of the black spiders image for the swastika, which I though looked like a spider. I think that was seriously my first time being excited about imagery. 

LD: Beverage of choice? In life or writing? 

JP: Okay, well, obviously coffee. Can’t duck the cliché. And wine, to keep it going. A tart and crisp white or a not-sweet red. And lately also a cocktail of St. Germaine with cucumber, mint and club soda; it’s lovely. But ultimately, water. If I’m not hydrated I can’t do anything. My husband makes fun of me for this; he thinks I believe water cures all things…kind of like the father in “my Big Fat Greek Wedding” who sprays Windex on everything. On a side note, the actor who plays that father is the actual father of my fellow Red Hen Press poet Brendan Constantine. And so the word comes full circle.