True Life: I’m Addicted to the Gym

Body. Body body body.  Bodies have been on my mind lately, as I’m sure you noticed in my last post (if you took the time to read all three billion words), and the fact that it’s the main focus of my 60-80 page SIP.  So, this has been on my mind, as well.

When my high school boyfriend and I broke up, I joined a gym called “SWAT” (it stands for (South West Athletic Training…I think).  I had been preoccupied with health for a while, thanks to being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and PCOS at fifteen.  If I’m being honest with you, I joined a gym thinking I could look better, and get him back.  What I did get out of that life decision runs a lot deeper than that.

Initially, the gym really pulled me out of a rut.  I remember times when I would drive home, playing loud music in my car, sipping a protein shake, and feel like crying, I was so happy.  I was getting stronger, and the physical was starting to manifest itself emotionally.  I went to a horse show a few months after I started working out more seriously, fell off my horse, and landed on a jump.  When I was able to shrug it off and walk away without even the slightest bit of Advil, I knew I would never, ever turn back.

That’s not to say I was all-of-a-sudden the healthiest human being on Earth.  Far from it, I was still alternating between pumping myself full of sugar and starving.  Just a few months ago, I started eating “clean,” meaning: small meals every 2.5-3 hours, protein and some kind of carb (either whole grains or produce) at every meal, and none of the “white stuff” (white flour or processed sugar).  I started going to the farmer’s market every weekend (FINALLY!), and mourned its loss at the end of October.  I began to eat more food—a LOT more food, and stopped counting calories.  I found that, when my system was free from sugar and was actually receiving nutrients from REAL food, I felt fantastic and the crazy-sugar-addict cravings were completely gone.  I am so thankful to have come to this, I can’t even describe it.  I went so long beating myself up mentally and physically as a result of food, it’s so refreshing to start developing a healthy, sustainable relationship with it.

So, needless to say, shit got pretty serious in the past few months.  I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and it makes me feel like I can do anything.  I realize that I should be grateful that my health problems are not more serious, but they are numerous enough that I sometimes feel like my body just does not work.  When I’m pushing it at the gym, I feel like we’re finally working together.  It might be an uphill battle, but it’s a battle I can still win, damn it.  Plus, hills are great for your glutes, so TAKE THAT, I’ll be stronger in the end.  The clean eating and the tough workouts go hand in hand, because I realize that I need to thank my body for the work it’s done, and give it what it needs to do what I ask of it to the best of its ability.  When life circumstances lead to the urge to binge (and I mean any kind of binging), I think to myself do not punish your body for this, it works hard for you.

There’s a group fitness class at SWAT to which I am completely addicted.  It’s called “BodyCombat.”  It’s a group cardio mixed martial arts class, so it involves a lot of punching combos, kicking, and shuffling.  There’s something about it that just gets me every time.  I leave drenched in sweat, red to the point of being borderline purple, feeling like I am just worth so much more than I ever imagined.  I can go in feeling like crap, with all these problems in my head I can’t seem to work out, and I leave genuinely liking who I am.  I feel strong, I feel fulfilled, I feel capable of being loved.  I am never giving these feelings up. Ever.

I wanted to write this because the impact it has had on my life is something I just can’t keep to myself.  I also feel like there can be a strange societal stigma against it, at least, in some of the circles to which I belong.  There are stereotypes about people who spend so much time in the gym, and many think that a commitment to clean eating is some kind of eating disorder.  What I’m trying to tell you is that I am by no means doing this because of vanity, or because am obsessively dissatisfied with my body.  It’s quite the opposite—it’s giving me my body back.  It’s giving me the courage to live my life.

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What collapses is the whole field of possibilities

I wrote this last year, as the final paper for Postmodern Critical Theory with Chris Latiolais.  Lately, the concepts have been haunting me, and they seem far too important not to share.

An Erotic Campus

Recently, Kalamazoo College has engaged in discussions regarding sexual practices on campus.  The panel has dubbed their goal a “sex-positive” campus, focusing on issues of consent.  Though this pursuit is, perhaps, the single most important improvement the campus could undergo, the discussions have not yet been moving in the right direction.  Rather than focus on what could happen in the courtroom, we should be focusing on what is happening right in front of us.  The simple use of the words “yes” or “no” can never cover the whole story.  What our campus needs is a complete reworking of our conceptualization of sexuality, a re-eroticization of the libido, which is currently confined in our minds only to the genitals.  In order to provide a framework for this kind of thinking, we may turn to philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, and Slavoj Zizek.  Merleau-Ponty’s work illustrates the bond our bodies share with the world, how this bond can be deepened through sexuality, and the devastating effects of the sexual violence that closes off that bond.  Lacan and Zizek illuminate the structures that have been allowing the kind of violence that can make its way into sexuality, and why we have been getting it wrong.

For Merleau-Ponty, it is by means of the body that the world can show itself to us.  Neither of the polar ends of Cartesian Dualism explains the way in which we are open to the world.  That is, we are not simply intellectual beings imposing concepts upon the world, nor are we causally determined, purely biological beings.  Rather than any combination of these two models, Merleau-Ponty instead presents us with the body “in-the-world” (Merleau-Ponty “Basic Writings” 101).  As human beings, we are not merely intellectual beings nor are we objects in the world.  We are, instead, an openness upon the world.  The way in which the world can show itself to us is through the body, as we engage in “the motor grasping of a motor significance” (143).  Through his work, Merleau-Ponty claims “we bring into existence, for ourselves, or take a hold upon, space, and the object or the instrument, and to describe the body as the place where this appropriation occurs” (154).  The world shows itself to us by means of the way in which we are attuned to it, through an “incarnate significance” that Merleau-Ponty explains as “a primary process of signification in which the thing expressed does not exist apart from the expression” (Merleau-Ponty “Perception” 166).  In simple terms, we cannot understand “rough” or “smooth” without running our hands over the surface.  A road will show itself differently to a runner than to a non-runner, who is attuned to how her body could interact with that road.

In the chapter “The Body in its Sexual Being” from The Body, Merleau-Ponty explains human sexuality in terms of this openness upon the world.  Gaining a greater understanding of Merleau-Ponty’s account of sexuality highlights the pitfalls of our current conception of sexuality.  We tend to think of sexuality in terms of genital stimulation, but Merleau-Ponty points out that “the libido is not an instinct, that is an activity naturally directed towards definite ends, it is the general power, which the psychosomatic subject enjoys, of taking root in different settings” (158).  What Merleau-Ponty is calling for is an opening up of our understanding of what sexuality is, from our narrowly-defined, somewhat biological account of it to that of libido, and Eros.  One of the problems with sex on campuses today is that “perception has lost its erotic structure” (156).  What we need is to “expand [our] notion of sexuality to the extent of absorbing into it the whole of existence” (159).  When we understand that our bodies act as pivot points in our bonds with the world, the concept of a playful, erotic sexuality that allows us to “[establish ourselves] through different experiences, [and] gaining structures of conduct” (158).  To bring comfort and health to sexual relationships on campus, “there must be an Eros or a Libido which breathes life into an original world, gives sexual value or meaning to external stimuli and outlines for each subject the use he shall make of his objective body” (156).  We must differentiate between sexuality as it is generally understood by society and the media, and instead come to view it as a means by which we can further our bond with the world, with ourselves, and with others, through mutual exploration of our modes of attunement.

Along with Merleau-Ponty’s beautiful account of what human sexuality rests upon and can be, comes an explanation behind the devastation following sexual violence.  What is threatened by sexual violence is a human being’s basic bond with the world, the way in which he or she is open and attuned to what surrounds him or her.  For the victim of sexual violence, “what collapses is the whole field of possibilities” (162).  Merleau-Ponty allows that, “the subject, in so far as [he or she] has a body, retains every moment the power to withdraw from it” (165).  As discussed earlier, however, this withdrawal comes at a high price, for it is through the body that the world can show up for us.  According to Merleau-Ponty, the process of recovering from sexual violence requires a self-attunement, a re-attunement in which “the body once more opens itself to others or to the past, when it opens the way to co-existence and once more (in the active sense) acquires significance beyond itself” (165).  Merleau-Ponty’s depiction of human sexuality not only explains the utter destruction brought about by sexual violence, but also suggests a re-eroticized community that can act as a safe zone for the re-opening of those of us who have been closed off to the world.  This is the kind of community that the college campus should become.

The movement from a discussion on Merleau-Ponty’s contribution to the problem of sexual violence on campus to Lacan’s views on sexuality is a jarring one.  Whereas Merleau-Ponty believes sexuality can be a deeper way of exploring our openness to the world, Lacan is famously quoted as saying “there’s no such thing as a sexual relationship” (Fink “Lacanian Subject” 104).  Lacan defines male and female in a structural manner, beyond the biological or cultural definitions that we tend to conceptualize, and “there is, according to Lacan, no direct relationship between men and women insofar as they are men and women” (104).  The two structures differ in their orientations toward desire.  This desire, however, does not relate directly to an Other but “with respect to a third term” (105).  The structures that Lacan denotes as male and female, and the neurotic structures of obsessive and hysteric that map onto these structures as the more exaggerated forms, tell a compelling story about why and how we may be getting sexuality wrong.  In order to grasp how these orientations toward desire “are neither symmetrical nor overlapping,” a deeper understanding of what makes these structures so different is necessary (105).

The obsessive, the neurotic exacerbation of the male structure, is oriented in terms of desiring fantasy toward an object, and “refuses to recognize that this object is related to the Other” (Fink “Clinical Intro” 118).  A famous example of the origin of the neurotic structure centers around the mother’s breast, “the infant’s primary source of satisfaction” (118).  The mother’s breast gives the child its sense of well-being and wholeness, as “the infant considers the breast not as separate from itself but rather as part and parcel of ‘itself’” (119).  When the child is separated from the mother, this object, rather than the mother herself, is what is lost.  The obsessive desires only objects, such as breasts, legs, a certain way of moving, a certain way of speaking.  It is due to the obsessive structure that the objectification of human beings has become so rampant, reducing men and women to nothing more than sexual objects.  In the pursuit of desire, “the obsessive takes the object for [himself or herself] and refuses to recognize the Other’s existence” (119).  In this movement is contained the greatest danger of the obsessive structure.  The obsessive sees only him or herself, and cannot relate to the Other as a human being.  The object of desire is desired because it symbolizes a sense of wholeness and subjective well-being.  Should the Other draw away from the obsessive for any reason, removing along with himself or herself the object of desire, the obsessive’s sense of well-being will be compromised.  The obsessive wants only to hold onto the object of desire, and does not see it as attached to a human being.  Feeling that his or her very subjectivity is compromised, and the Other dehumanized, the obsessive may become enraged and resort to violence.

The hysteric structure, as it correlates to the female structure, relates to the Other “not in relation to the erotic object she herself has ‘lost,’ but as the object the Other is missing” (120).  The hysteric recognizes the lack in the Other that makes him or her desire, relating to the mother’s loss of the child in separation, and “constitutes [himself or herself] as the object necessary to make the mOther whole or complete” (120).  Rather than act upon his or her own desires, “the hysteric seeks to divine the Other’s desire and to become the particular object that, when missing, makes the Other desire” (120).  In doing so, the hysteric essentially denies himself or herself subjectivity.  His or her goal is not to make him or herself whole, but to make the Other whole as a subject by becoming what he or she lacks.  The violence of the hysteric structure of desire is self-inflicted—he or she disappears as a subject against the Other, and his or her own desire is never a part of the equation.

Though Lacan’s ideas can seem somewhat abrasive and depressing, these structures provide new ways of viewing the pivotal problems affecting our campus.  These structures will never be able to truly relate to one another by means of these orientations toward desire—whether the relationship involves a hysteric and an obsessive, two hysterics, or two obsessives.  It is hard to deny these structures of desire, considering the objectification and dehumanization that seems to be the fixation of our society.  From the earliest stages of sexuality, children show a propensity toward possessiveness and inability to relate to Others as human beings, or toward adopting the goal of becoming what Others want.  These orientations toward desire also highlight the shortcomings of the question of consent.  Though it is absolutely essential that both parties be in agreement to sexual activity, the words “yes” or “no” seem too simple to cover a person’s reasoning behind engaging in sexual activity.  Is the reason for “yes” that the person feels he or she can grasp that partial object that represents, for him or her, the lost object?  Or, perhaps, because he or she feels that agreement is what the Other wants? Both are problematic.  In both cases, the word “yes” is not based on a mutual agreement to explore desire through a reciprocal, erotic encounter.

Although Merleau-Ponty and Lacan seem to be diametrically opposed in their views on sexuality, both philosophers are useful to the creation of an erotic campus.  We may view Lacan as offering an account of the problem, and Merleau-Ponty as offering a solution to that problem.  Dehumanization is the root of some of the most horrible acts of violence, and Lacan tells us that objectification is at the very root of fantasy.  It is apparent that the obsessive and neurotic structures of desire are running rampant on college campuses today, bringing with them oppression and acts of violence that can absolutely close a victim off from the world.  The idea of “consent” relates to our struggle only as it pertains to a truly open mutual agreement to explore erotic modes of being, not simply as an affirmative signifier.  It is important, however, not to take Lacan’s idea of a structure of desire based upon the primary drama of the infant as a fatalistic proclamation that two people will never be able to relate to one another on a sexual level.  Merleau-Ponty’s work on sexuality relates to Lacan in that it proposes that we can move toward a re-eroticization of the human body, before it was overwritten by signifiers.  This, too, is the basis of traversing the fantasy for Lacan—breaking the grip of the structures of desire that have come to rule us in favor of understanding that desire can attach itself to any and all “objects.”  Through traversing the fantasy, and pursuing libido as Merleau-Ponty describes it, we can create a campus community that no longer so narrowly defines sexuality.  The sexual relationship can then become a trusting encounter through which people can deepen and broaden their attunement with the world around them.

Although Lacan and Merleau-Ponty provide us with a solid basis from which to understand sexuality on campus, it is also important to discuss the source of the kind of hatred that can drive people to violence.  We all understand that love can bathe another person in a subjective light that goes beyond hiding flaws.  In fact, it renders them even more loveable.  Slavoj Zizek describes this phenomenon by saying “a choice is an act which retroactively grounds its own reasons” (Zizek 125).  Zizek ultimately maps this on to Kant’s transcendental objects and the transcendental unity of apperception, in the sense that “reasons ultimately count only insofar as I ‘incorporate’ them” (126).  We can never perceive a totality, and therefore must posit a unifying factor that we can apply to each experience of this person or object.  In the case of a loved-one, we will write “love” into the narrative of that person, which will change our perceptive interactions with that person not because of any discernible given reason, but simply because we have decided to assign that narrative.  Zizek makes it clear that “such narratives are always retroactive reconstructions for which we are in a way responsible; they are never simple given facts” (127).  Our reasons do not give meaning to our narratives, but, rather, our narratives give meaning to our reasons.

The way we retroactively incorporate aspects of a person into a narrative of love is the exact same basis of hate.  When Zizek emphasizes that there “are never simple given facts” that lead us to construct these narratives, he is leading us to think about stereotypes.  We often view stereotyping as the source of violent hatred, and attempt to dispel stereotypes as a means of solving the problem.  By recognizing that this hatred is based on a narrative of retroactively chosen reasons, however, it becomes clear that convincing those who are full of hatred that the hated people do not possess those qualities will accomplish nothing.  The hatred does not lie in the reasons, it lies in the way in which a person has chosen to narrate.  Both love and hatred are based on the same principle of something in the Other that is more than the Other.  Dispelling hatred, therefore, will not work at the level of attempting to show people the ways in which stereotypes are “wrong.”  A friend may numerate the faults of the person you love, but you will only assimilate these faults into your narrative and say “ ‘for this very reason I love this person even more!’” (126).  In a similar manner, a person who has come to narrate another person or group in a certain way will assimilate negative and positive attributes—any attribute at all—into his or her hateful narrative.  Until a person becomes aware that this hatred is the result of something arbitrary that he or she has chosen as a lens through which to view a person or a group, he or she will harbor a hatred that holds the potential to become extremely violent and enduring.

When we understand how the narrative structure of love is the same as hatred, the source of intimate partner violence may become illuminated.  The application of violence may find its cause in a glitch in a person’s love-narrative.  He or she may believe that his or her violence is justified, because the victim deserves such violence, according to the way in which this person has come to narrate the victim.  Hatred can masquerade as love, so long as we have decided to attach the label of “love” to it.  Taken to an extreme, this phenomena can explain why a victim will stay in an abusive relationship, despite its devastating effects.  If the victim has constructed a strong love narrative, he or she will assimilate the violence, and the grip of “love” will prevent him or her from leaving the violent situation.

The re-eroticization of the campus is perhaps one of the most pressing goals we need to accomplish, because it deals with our very means of being open to and navigating the world.  The structures that hold us back from accomplishing this, unfortunately, run deep.  They are built into the drama of coming into the world as a being of language, and our relationships to fantasy and desire.  The narrative structure of our lives may lead us down a path of violence, or lead us to remain in a violent situation.  We are defined by a relationship to language, our lives are gripped by conceptualizations that rest only on the signifiers we ourselves have chosen. The first step toward an erotic campus is that of breaking down what has stood as a signifier for sexuality, and the rigid idea of genital stimulation that has eclipsed all other concepts that might have once been allowed to stand behind that signifier.  Only then can we come to know sexuality as a playful and trusting unearthing of deeper and deeper attunement with the world, between bodies who have not been compartmentalized into zones that act as the only surfaces that allow sexual satisfaction.  We must come to recognize sexuality as libido, and not as “an activity naturally directed towards definite ends” (Merleau-Ponty “The Body” 158).

Kalamazoo College is a community of thinkers.  In some ways we are gripped and devastated by language, but, in this case, we must use it to our advantage.  By spreading the words of these philosophers, students at Kalamazoo College may come to a deeper understanding of the horrors of sexual violence, the pitfalls of our conventional conceptions of sexuality, and the grip of our own modes of narrating.  “Community” is a word that is commonly thrown around at a Kalamazoo College freshman’s orientation, but do we truly understand what it means?  What is being proposed here is community at its finest—a network of trust and reciprocity where every encounter reflects back upon us a deeper and deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  The discussion needs to open up beyond the question of consent.  There is much more at stake in this than court proceedings.  What is on the line is nothing short of our bonds with the world around us, the very way in which we know we are alive.

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I get to the point by the end, I swear.

So this blog has definitely devolved into the intellectual equivalent of a booty-call.  Whenever I feel like rambling on and on about things and no one has the time to sit down and listen to me try to sort through it all, I turn to you.  Apologies, I guess.  At least with a blog, you can just stop reading if you’re bored.

The SIP is going well, it’s nearing the home stretch.  It has, indeed, taken on the problems and joys of being an embodied subject in today’s (okay, mainly my) world.

I’m mostly here to talk to you about my world as it’s been ripped open by my SIP and general happenings in my life, in a way meant to help me sort out some things.  Last week my workshop group met, and Di asked me what I was looking for in a relationship, and if I was open to dating.  Valid question—this Saturday marks a solid year of being single (which is a long time for someone who dated one guy for 3 years, turned around 5 months later and dated another for 4 months, and is only barely 21).  I definitely hesitated a lot.  I think I’m open to dating, but I’ve been so stable and successful on my own, it’s hard for me to see myself going for a relationship again unless it’s exactly what I want.

So, what do I want?  That seemed to be the hardest question of all.  At the time the question was asked, all I knew was what I didn’t want.  I used to be all about romance and sweet gestures and a future together and blah blah blah.  I somehow 180-ed from that by now.  As far as the normal wooing gestures go (like sending me flowers, buying me a gift for my birthday, sending me texts that tell me I’m the most beautiful girl in the world…you know the drill), my problem with those is that they start to feel so fake.  If you really, genuinely like me/ are falling in love with me, you won’t need crap like that to show me—I’ll just know from your energy.  I don’t even know if I ever want to get married.  Even if I did, sometimes I think it might be cool to just go to a courthouse and then spend all the money you might spend on a wedding traveling together.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I guess what I want is just someone who will be one of my best friends, will laugh with me, will be in my corner, and will unfailingly act as a soft place to rest when the world is unyielding shitty.  That doesn’t seem like much to ask, but trust me, it is!  There are so many people in the world who are looking for something different from that.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t want it differently.  But I do think that it tends not to work out if you’re looking for completely different things.  If you want someone sweet and demure to build you up all the time and fill your beautiful, white-picket-fence-surrounded home with babies, you had better run screaming in the opposite direction.  I don’t need people opening doors for me, I don’t need flowers on my doorstep, I don’t need my own personal sonnets (please god no), and I sure as hell do not need someone calling me “baby” all the time.

I’ve been told I give a very closed-off vibe that intimidates men.  My first reaction was “good.”  I’m so deep inside of myself right now, that doesn’t surprise me—and I won’t apologize for it.

There is something very strange happening to me lately, and it would probably take a very long chat with Chris Latiolais to put my finger on exactly what it is.  It’s like the feeling you get when you’re standing at the top of an extremely huge building and you’re looking over the edge.  Sometimes I get these crazy urges to do something like get an entire sleeve of tattoos, or chop off all my hair.  Sometimes it seems appealing to try to get my inner world and my outer appearance to match, but then other times, when I realize that’s impossible, I think it’s fun to fuck with people’s expectations like I do.  I’m battling an extreme hatred of normalcy, to the point where it’s getting a little insensitive.  I’m just on the edge of something, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t even really know if I’m handling in the way I should handle it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been pretty happy lately, and a lot more chilled out than I once was.  But there’s still this monstrous thing happening.

These are the impulses that gave birth to my SIP.  I have moments where I feel like I’m watching myself in a movie, and, to be honest, I’m kind of enthralled by them.  Once, when I was in New York City, I saw this makeshift 9/11 memorial down in a subway station.  It was all these names of people who had died, typed onto address labels and stuck onto the wall, one per brick.  A street performer was down there playing this very eerie, strange music, and all the tile made it echo and reverberate right down into the middle of your chest.

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Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I know, I know.  The majority of these posts are going to read like “really, guys!  THIS is what my SIP is about!”  But that’s why you’re here, so deal with it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about embodiment.  If not thinking, then at least noticing that my poems do a lot of exploring when it comes to embodiment.

Here, let’s enlist dictionary.com for some help with this:

em·bod·y? ?[em-bod-ee]
verb (used with object), -bod·ied, -bod·y·ing.
1. to give a concrete form to; express, personify, or exemplify in concrete form: to embody an idea in an allegorical painting.
2. to provide with a body;  incarnate; make corporeal: to embody a spirit.
3. to collect into or include in a body; organize; incorporate.
4. to embrace or comprise.

What I mean as it relates to my own experience in the world is that I often don’t feel fully connected to my body.  Societally speaking, we do so much with it in terms of artifice (whoa, that was almost too heady, even for me) that I wouldn’t be surprised if other people feel this way, too.  We paint it, we dress it in a way that we deem to be our own “personal style,” we wash it ritualistically, we decorate it with ink.  There it is on a simple level.  But, then—we look in the mirror and see something completely different from what other people see.  We covet another person’s body, another person covets our own.  We give it away to strangers in varying ways.  We lose our personhood to objecthood.  What I’m saying is: this shit becomes so damn complicated when you grow up and you start to separate your self from your body.

Update:  this has been sitting on my computer screen, unfinished, for a few days now.  I just went and talked to Chris Latiolais, Kalamazoo College philosophy prof and, quite possibly, the smartest man on Earth.  Here is a terribly constructed, stream-of-consciousness outline of what we discussed:

-The “big Other”
-how we operate on the grounds of being sighted/sited/cited by society

-Merleau-Ponty’s bodily attunement
-the body is the way in which the world shows itself to us

-Lacan
-the body is written over with signs
-psychosis related with one’s relationship with the Other (I did a lot of work
regarding Lacan and eating disorders in Postmodern Critical Theory last year)

-A million books I should read.

Like usual, I left this meeting with a gigantic smile on my face, feeling ten times smarter than when I arrived.  My SIP!  It’s happening!  It’s really happening!

I can’t necessarily pinpoint where this obsession of mine began, but it is, most definitely, a current obsession.  When I’m working out, pushing myself through a run, or riding a horse, I feel so connected to and just inside of my body.  When I’m “out,” it’s easy for me to feel like my body is this ridiculous object I’m putting out into the world, and that I have nothing to do with it.  When I drink, I NEVER lose mental control, and I mean NEVER.  But my motor skills are just all over the place.  I spend all of my brainpower trying to get back to normal, proofreading and editing texts ten times before I send them, trying to force cumbersome words out of my clumsy mouth.  I feel like I’m just piloting this bizarre vehicle around a room full of people who keep mistaking me for nothing more than a body.

I realize that these thoughts are somewhat disorganized, but I’m pretty excited.  So that’s my excuse.

 

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Where are you going/ That you suck breath like mileage?

Folks, I’ve got it.  So here it goes.

I was thinking about the whole thing about whether our poems will bring things together or pull things apart, give us questions or answers, and I realized what this collection is about.

Last Spring, I worked on a collection for my Advanced Poetry class that focused on two personas that I had “created” that I felt were representative of myself: the shy, insecure girl grappling with expectations and the outer world, and the dark, dangerous animal of the inner world.  I set out to continue that in my SIP, because I think Sylvia Plath finds something similar to these two voices in Ariel (think “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy”).  I went along with the project feeling like I was coming to know myself a little bit better with each poem.  Then, halfway through the quarter, we partnered up to read each other’s projects and give feedback.  The girl who read mine concluded that each poem seemed to be reaching for answers to questions they might not consciously understand in the first place.  At first, I was shocked, because the actual act of writing them was not having that effect on me at all.  What I’m beginning to realize now, is that maybe pulling things apart is what works for me…maybe, for once, I don’t want answers.

My whole life, I’ve had that strange feeling of standing outside myself more often than I haven’t, probably.  It’s not necessarily that I like to take myself out of the situation and become the observer, I just, inevitably, do it.  I’m always thinking about my body as an object in the world apart from myself, how other people are perceiving me, what persona I’m presenting to the world, and how I feel about that persona at that specific time.  That isn’t to say that I want poetry to swoop in and give me one singular, clean narrative by which I can live my life.  First of all, I think I would get bored as hell living that way, and second, I think that’s more artificial than recognizing how multi-faceted we can be, and the roots and complications of and contradictions of identity.  I think the poem I wrote last week off of “The Other” also kind of led me in this direction.

So that’s my spiel.  That might not seem any more specific to you than it was before, but it is to me.  In simple terms, I’m looking to pull things apart, not put them together.

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Peel off the napkin

So we’ve gotten our first week of revisions back.  A little bit into last week, I started to feel completely overwhelmed with my project.  The reason:  Sylvia Plath is damn GOOD.  I was feeling a little bit discouraged with what seemed like an impossible goal to write like her.

The realization that followed from that is two-fold.  First, I realized that I need to be able to take this project, this book, and spin it into something that’s mine, not hers.  Instead of thinking of it in a broad, general way, I need to start thinking on smaller scales.  What would happen if I wrote a poem with this same title?  How can I be aware of form in the way she is aware of form?  What can I learn from her use of sound?  Her image palette?   I used these thoughts in several ways while writing poems this week.  I think I’ve been conscious of sound and form from the beginning, but I also realized that I can take them and use them to my own advantage, without perfectly mirroring her.  Example: longer lines seem to work better for me, at least during the writing process.  When I begin with short lines and little stanzas right off the bat, I start to walk into VERY lyrical territory, full of strings of pretty clauses that don’t make sense.  In some of my poems from last week (and possibly one from this week)  I have to go back and add in some real-live sentences for clarification purposes.  I think starting out with longer lines (and breaking them later, if need be) I can avoid that problem.  I wrote a poem entitled “The Other,” a title that also appears in Ariel. I like the result.  I think it will go to an interesting place, even though it’s a different place than Plath’s poem went.  Finally, I wrote a poem that was basically a clean, simple exploration of my own image palette.

Second, I revisited Plath’s revision process in the newly published facsimile of the original manuscript of Ariel. It includes copies of several different versions of some poems, including the title poem, progressing from the first draft to the final draft.  What I realized when I read “Ariel,” especially, is that that poem did not begin as a masterpiece. In fact, the first version of it isn’t even that great!  I’m not meaning to bash Sylvia Plath here, I still think she’s an under-appreciated genius.  What I’m saying is that I can’t expect everything I write to be pure gold the second it leaves my brain.  This editing process will be crucial…thank goodness I have almost two months to edit over winter break!

Overall, I’m happy with the way things are going.  There are still some major questions to answer, though.  When I began this project, my frame seemed focused enough.  Now, I’m not so sure.  At workshop on Friday, Di asked us what these poems were doing for the reader, or for us.  Are they making things come together, or pulling things apart?  What’s at stake?  I don’t want to spend 80 pages lyrically yelling “I am woman hear me roar” in ex-boyfriends’ faces.  More on this soon, hopefully.

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“Then the substanceless blue…”

This blog has been lonely for so long.  I promise I’m back for good this time, though.  This whole operation began as the chronicling of a journey, and I’m here to tell you that yet another journey has begun (I guess you could argue that every day is the beginning of a journey, buuuut I’m not ready to get that deep on you guys just yet.  I’m a little rusty, you know.).

Some of you may know that, being the insane person I am, I’ll be graduating from K a year early.  So, this year is pretty much my senior year, which, at K, means a Senior Individualized Project (or SIP).  I don’t want to go too far into the details, but a SIP is basically a senior thesis, only for undergrad.  The focus of my project is a manuscript of poems inspired by Sylvia Plath, and, more specifically her final book, Ariel. This Monday begins third week (out of ten), and I’m feeling like a space like this, where I can record all my thoughts on the project, is becoming increasingly necessary.  So, here I am.

So far I have six poems, and one of them is probably not going to be included in the final product.  Cue freak-out mode: this manuscript has to be eighty pages double spaced, which equates to maybe seventy to eighty poems.  SCARY.  That level of production, however, is one of the ways my SIP will bring me closer to the poems in Ariel, which was also written in a short time span, around this season.  The title poem begins: “Stasis in darkness./ Then the substanceless blue/ Pour of tor and distances.”  The title poem is about HORSEBACK RIDING, people!

I’m glad I’m back.  Getting this out here has gotten me all amped up about it again.  Right now, I’m writing a poem about what I want from life lately.  I could easily tell you what I DON’T want, which is cute. I’m so sick of aesthetically pleasing, of getting just what I expected, of idealism that stomps out anything interesting.  The enemies of duende.

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2:22:31

Two hours, twenty-two minutes, thirty-one seconds.

There are some events that change you as a person.  You go into them as one thing, and come out of them as another.  It could take three months (maybe in New York City, for example) or it could take just a couple hours.  Either way, you know it’s the kind of thing where there’s life before, and there’s life after.

The morning of May 8th, 2011, I woke up at 4:30 am to take my synthroid (thyroid meds) and knew there was no hope of falling back asleep.  I bounded down the stairs at 5:30, full of nervous energy, to spread peanut-butter on an English muffin and devour a banana.  Danielle, one of my best friends from the Gagie days (the school I went to from 2nd grade to 8th grade) had spent the night the night before, and hopped in the car with me on our way to the Borgess “Run for the Health of It” half marathon.

If you have been reading this blog, this will come as no surprise to you.  I’ve been talking/complaining about my training regimen basically since this blog began.  But, if not, it could certainly catch you off guard.  I would never, EVER have characterized myself as “a runner.”  A fitness fanatic, yes.  But, before December 8th, the day I signed up, I had never run more than three miles in my life.  When I trekked to Gazelle Sports in downtown Kalamazoo to buy new shoes, the salesperson asked after my motivations for training for a half marathon.  “The feeling of crossing the finish line,” I told him.  “I need that feeling in my life.”

Somewhere along the line, my brother’s girlfriend, Andrea, messaged me over facebook asking what I was doing in the run, and that she was thinking about joining me.  Especially after returning home from NYC, when I started to get a LOT more serious about training, we shared our training run success stories and woes.

The weather the morning of May 8th was beautiful.  Pretty chilly at 7:30 am, but the sky was clear and it was a perfect temperature for running.  I pinned my orange bib printed with “1870” in bold to the front of my jacket…thank GOODNESS for Danielle, who reminded my forgetful self to get it out of the car before we were shuttled to the race’s starting line!  Danielle, my mom, my dad, and my brother waved us off, and we made our way to the gigantic amoeba of runners congregated beneath the “start” banner.

We were kind of frustrated, stuck behind the mass of people and unable to start running right as we passed the timers.  Once we got going, though, it was the most electric feeling I’d ever felt.  You know how fantastic it is to dodge your way past people, because you are RUNNING FASTER?  Pretty god damn fantastic.

I must say, I was on top of the world.  Mile one whizzed by, then mile two, then mile three.  Somewhere around there we stopped for water and I downed a carb goo shot thing.  Brent followed us along most of the way on his bike, taking pictures, cracking jokes, and motivating in general.  We trucked along to miles four and five feelin’ alive.

Mile six came along, and people really started flagging.  I was starting to get somewhat tired, but I knew I was better off than many and we were pretty close to halfway done.

Mile eight, though, man.  Mile eight threatened to hand me my kneecaps on a dinner plate.  Thank goodness Andrea was there by my side.  With her still padding along I knew I couldn’t stop.  Every once in a while we would pass by our little support group on the sidelines: my mom, my dad, and Danielle.  Every time we saw them I tried to pump my arms in the air and smile, acting like it was easy as pie—sometimes I believed myself, too!  This became crucial shortly after mile eight, when a gigantic hill reared its ugly head.  I basically sprinted my way up—this is how I deal with hills, I’m either at a dead stop, or a dead sprint.  My glutes where screaming after that.

After mile nine, a gigantic downward-sloping hill seemed like a beautiful sight.  But damn, that thing hurt! After you’ve been running for that long, the last thing you want to do is pound on your joints trying to slow yourself down.

Around mile eleven or twelve, Andrea told me to go ahead of her.  I had gotten to the point where stopping to walk hurt (strangely enough).  Nearing the end, it really became a battle between my brain and my body.  I was so tired (though now I realize I was not in nearly as horrible shape as a lot of the people around me, who were one step away from needing medical help), but I had to will myself to keep going—just a mile left.  All the encouragement from people at the side of the road helped immensely.  I powered through the last mile, and finally, finally, was in sight of the finish line.  I lengthened my stride the last couple hundred meters, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of cheering spectators.  I somehow had become isolated from the other runners, there was no one for about ten feet in front of me and ten feet behind me.  I felt like something big was welling up inside of me, turning inside out and threatening to burst.  I may or may not have started crying, even before they announced my name and it was all over.  I stumbled in a stupor of endorphins, veins overflowing with oxygen.  None other than Ben Hartley, one of my best friends from high school, was there just beyond the finish to give me a hug and my finisher’s medal.  The whole thing felt like a dream.

I wandered around a bit, and someone handed me a bottle of water.  Eventually, I found Andrea, who had finished only a minute behind me.  We met up with her parents, and searched around for mine.  After what seemed like millions of years, we were finally reunited.  Success!

Coming to the end of this experience was both euphoric and depressing, in the post-partum sense.  The next half we’re signed up for is the Detroit Free Press Half in October, but that just seems so far away.  I want it NOW.  I’m hooked.  Andrea and I finished respectively in the middle of the pack of our first EVER organized road race (the first for the both of us), and we were not lying on stretchers or in baby pools full of ice on the other side of the finish line.

My body, my own two legs and feet, the bones I’ve carrying inside of me my entire life—carried me 13.1 miles that day.  I felt like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.  The experience completely changed the way I feel about my body and the way I feel about food.  When you’re trying to power your way through a long run, you finally begin to understand the whole “food is fuel” mentality (though I will never, ever, give up the amount of pleasure I take in certain foods, either).

I can go anywhere, now.  All I need is a good pair of shoes, and my own two feet.

 

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there’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going

Hello, world!  I’m still here.  If you’re reading this, I’m glad to see you took the whole “it isn’t over between you and me” thing to heart.

You have probably guessed that I am writing this right now in order to avoid homework, and ding ding ding!  You would be correct.  But I’ll get it done.  I always do.  I put way too much stock in never making a mistake to do that.  Which leads me to my reasoning for having abandoned you for so long (a stint which WILL NOT be continued, I promise you are officially added to my list of priorities)…my life is CERTIFIABLY INSANE lately, and I am by no means exaggerating when I say that.  I’m overloading in order to graduate early (NYC left a hole in my heart that only that big beautiful city can fill), which means I’m taking four classes instead of the usual three.  In addition to that, I’m TA-ing for Jennifer Sweeney’s Intermediate Poetry Workshop (look up her poetry…very accessible, beautiful, haunting…), so it’s basically like I’m taking five classes.  Then there’s horseback riding every day, which I’ve jumped right back into—no pun intended!  On top of that, my training runs for the half marathon have become monsters…seriously, it takes up a pretty good chunk of a Sunday to run ten miles!  I’m doing my best to juggle it all without losing my mind.  For instance, last weekend I got my first ever massage!  Amazing.  How did I go so long without them?

So there’s the gist.  I, of course, could never catch you up completely on everything that’s happened since I’ve been back from NYC, but I can name some highlights:

Highlight 1: The first weekend I was back from the city, Linus and I headed to a little schooling horse show at Albion College to compete in the 3’ jumper division.  I could not have been happier with how it went.  I think we schooled four foot before we walked in the ring, which made the jumps look so tiny once I got in there!  I was so calm and collected, and I think Linus was taking a cue from that.  Maybe taking time off to go to NYC actually helped my riding…I came back a new, stronger, more laid back and confident person.  We ended up 3rd!

Highlight 2: I may not be fast, but I can probably run a hell of a lot farther than a lot of people right now.  The speed will come, I’m sure.  But as of right now, I’m pretty okay with having the ability to run myself back home when my mom drives through two counties to drop me off.

Highlight 3: Advanced Poetry Workshop with Chad Sweeney (Jennifer’s husband!  Also look him up).  I’m sure I’ll grapple with this a lot via the blog.  It’s a collection of project-based poems, and I will attempt to explain the gist of the project to you.  My fractured selves: the insecure one, the girl who worries what other people think and about how she’s presenting herself, and The Vixen, who tore her way out from inside of me thanks to New York City.  More on this later.  Let’s just say, for now, that “what would The Vixen do?” is a common thought pattern of mine lately.

Highlight 4: Leading workshops in Intermediate Poetry.  I mean, I don’t have to do much, because it’s a collaborative situation…but still.  Kind of scary/amazing to be in that position.

Highlight 5:  I’m still on a high from my chapbook, and the fact that I will be able to go visit it at Poets House over the summer! AAAAAAAAHHHH.

So.  Let’s talk about where this blog might go, now that my program is over and it no longer needs to fit any grading parameters.  I would like to start stressing book reviews/poet reviews/essays/research a lot more than I have in the past.  Then again, I also like having this as a spot where I can muse and work my thoughts out, and also record the happenings of my life.  So, basically, what I’m saying is that we’ll keep the old format but also SUPPLUMENT, because, let’s face it, life in Kalamazoo is just not as exciting as life in the city.  Also, I have to legitimize myself somehow, right?  Isn’t that what we do in academia?  Haha.

New York City, it’s calling me home.  I have to pull some pretty miraculous stunts to get myself there, though, if I want to keep riding when I go to grad school.  Oddly enough, my parents don’t seem especially keen on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for me to get an M.F.A. at Columbia.  How irrational of them, people with M.F.A.’s make millions.  Oh wait, they don’t?

Anyway, I had better get to work.  I’ll update you later in the week in whatever way strikes my fancy.  This blog answers to my every whim now, who knows where the hell it will go.

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just so you know

It isn’t over between you and me.

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