Are You Happy with Yourself?
Do you ever not know what to say about the quality of your current happiness to make people understand how significant it is? The last several months of my life have been suspiciously good. My first book was published, people seem to like it. I applied to and got into my dream MFA program. My first AWP was an absolute ball. I currently work a job where I get to create something deeply beautiful everyday. I have met the most precious and fierce poets. I am on a fantastic movie streak. I’m writing this beat. I’m feeling myself. And you know what? I fucking deserve it.
But every happiness is hard fought. Whenever I notice how much I am enjoying myself two feelings emerge. Guilt and fear. I feel guilty because how dare I enjoy myself while the world is imploding and I feel afraid because what if I ruin it. Of course it’s a little more complicated than that. I was learning how to take a bong rip for the first time and I realized that I am only halfway through the happiest year I have ever had. This is not hyperbole. I was varying degrees of suicidal from ages 12 to 22. Even for a few years after that I was barely going through the motions of being alive.
Now, I have fun. I talk and laugh freely. I go out with my friends. I take selfies. I instagram my food. I instagram other people’s cats. I masturbate without guilt. I love karaoke and dancing. I am doing everything I ever dreamed of. For all intents and purposes, I’m happy. Except for when I’m not.
Last week I felt the sharp edge of unhappiness flirting with me and I was just not about that life. I engaged in a little ritual. After working in the studio I put on a podcast and catch the bus to JJ’s Fish and Chicken. I already know what I’m going to get but when I walk in I pretend to study the menu. I order the dark chicken special and depending on how much soothing I need I also get a soda and or a piece of homemade cake. This week I got lemon cake. I pay, the man behind the counter (he and I are well acquainted by now) says, it’ll be about ten minutes. I step outside and smoke a cigarette. When I come back inside they are packing a plastic bag with my order and the man behind the counter asks, Hot sauce? I always decline, he hands me the bag and says, Have a nice day hun. I thank him and cross the street to wait for the bus. It takes two buses to get home, I have one fry while I wait. If I’ve chosen my podcast well it will end right as I’m walking through the front door. The entire trip takes a little over an hour. I need to do this at least three times. On the bus ride home Thursday I was thinking about the only condition under which I would travel back in time. I would find my 8 year old self and say, Let’s paint something. I would tell her, I believe you and it’s not your fault. I would hug her, but maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea. I heard two dudes at a party once talking about how if you touch a past version of yourself when you go back it time it can cause the world to end.
On Friday I was back at the local juvie to lead the weekly writing workshop. I brought them Seungja Choi’s poems translated by Cathy Park Hong and Won-Chung Kim and gave them prompts based on “Lonely Women” and “A Self Portrait”. Since the start of the year my desire has been to have them engage with women poets of color. I’ve brought them Morgan Parker and Valerie Mejer. To decolonize their idea of who a writer is, who an artist is. To show them that they are capable of creating beautiful and meaningful things. When they are willing to give me the time of day their writing puts its fingers all into my heart like someone playing the bagpipes. During our workshop on Friday though the air in the room tightened. One girl didn’t understand why I had brought them such dark poems to read. Another girl chimed in reminding the room of their captivity, “I mean we aren’t happy in here. Well you are,” she said to me, “You’re always smiling.” Of course to them I’m an outsider. I speak in gentle tones. I graduated from Notre Dame. I’m an artist. I’ve never been in the juvenile justice system, but I know that I have more in common with them than they think. So I told them what I would have needed to hear, Your feelings are important. Even the unpleasant ones. It’s important to be able to recognize and name what you are feeling. When I was your age it was difficult for me to know who I was and who I could be. Poetry helped me (still helps me) and this is why I come here to be with you.
That, and I know what it’s like to grow up refusing to allow yourself to be vulnerable. To know that your vulnerability makes you a target. That, plus a million other things I’m not allowed to say to you. Maybe I am asking them for too much. Next time I’ll work harder to find some happier poems.
Something that I can’t shake lately is this quote… this entire speech of Toni Morrison’s. Tears are pouring down my face as I read it. She says, “It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.” It keeps me from doing my work. I kinda feel like the work of my life is to be exceedingly happy. I think back to Joyelle’s talk from A Fable for Horror panel at AWP and tell myself secrets. During the panel, in pink pen I wrote What do I want when I ask for justice? in my journal. I eat a cookie that Katy baked this weekend. I think about hedonistic discipline. Have a smoke. Think about something my mother said to me, irritated with my depression, “You’re just going to be miserable forever.” Living well is the best revenge.
I am deadset on enjoying myself. I’m going to do whatever I set out to do. Like how I want to open a cafe with Lucas de Lima. Or start a podcast with Eunsong Kim. Be penpals with Dev Varma. Compare birth charts with Sarah Fox. A tea party with Claudia Rankine. I gotta hit up farmers markets with Tim Jones-Yelvington. Be elderly and ridiculous with Paul Cunningham. Sometimes the world makes me feel so shitty and bitter and unsure of myself. But then I draw strength from these bad bitches (in and out of poetry) who are fuckless and here to slay. I have so many schemes for my future happiness. I’mma machine it into being.
- Hanging out with Katy Friday night. Watching Let the Right One In and blasting Trap Queen on the car radio.
- My favorite Boondocks episode, “Riley Wuz Here”
- Backing Horse Less Press’s Kickstarter, securing my copy of Paul Cunningham’s GOAL|TENDER MEAT|TENDER. They also published Nikki Wallschlaeger’s Houses which I can’t wait to read.
- These. Three. Articles.
- Chani Nicolas is my favorite astrologer. I hope you britches have girded your loins for Mercury Retrograde.
- My smart funny gorgeous friend Jay Santa Cruz and the value of disagreeing with one’s friends. This week marks our one year friendiversary. I swear, though, I will get her to love vision boarding if it’s the last thing I do.
- The Offing is doing some dope shit. “Dear Dorothy” by Suzi Garcia and “[I can’t bear anymore what happens to the body]” by Victoria Lynne McCoy
- These. Three. Videos.
- I was googling myself and I found this.
Tata, my lonely britches. Paul, this is for you.