score to one
picturing me but with all my teeth gone
chance every encounter
when you get my half
took me forever to get it down
but all this is okay
but mostly you
chewing me out
i lost the privilege to reason
when you broke me down
all of this
come leaking out
my ear to your chest
heart beat arrests to rhythm of sex
all of this
wrote it down
made me frown
come to me
i took it for granted
then started to panic
but i always had it
next time it’s aggressive
move up on me
but baby i’m past it
baby i’m on it
maybe i’m gone then
took hostage for ransom
my baby is handsome
my hands are the cancer
i took you for taken
i’m always impatient
i’m always deranged
i’m always the same then
at least for now
let me down
if you’re onto me
that’s a possibly
so stay off of me
please stay off of me
if you’re onto me
then stay nothing please
then subsist on me
then act modestly
be a prodigy
be a mockery
all the same to me
always swallows me
if i’m wholly me
aren’t you full of me?
can i be reprieve?
cannot be reprieve
if you’re on your knees
keep a part and leave
you’re so far
above my pay grade
but i’ll say you’ve left an impression
if not for long then
that we’ll agree on
JD-Jurado This poem is about learning when to stay and when to leave.
Today I feel good (above average and not just “okay”, but able besides (and, I’m sure it goes without saying, but if you are to skim this, you’ll quickly realize that I meant “Today” as in the first day I started to draft this post)) and willing to be active, and to put myself forward without straining myself in the process.
My thoughts have been all over the place recently. I used to write letters to myself to get a foothold of what exactly I believed was the root, or “essence”, of the problems I had been dealing with during any given moment in time. I don’t remember what the last letter I wrote to myself was about. It was a long time ago. Regardless, it has always been therapeutic to put problems into words, and to put those words into writing.
I talk to myself sometimes. It’s usually because I’m being very negative or too hard on myself. It is difficult to validate to my own feelings sometimes, but it is even MORE difficult to invalidate them.
Yes, sometimes I have to be tough on myself – but it’s not me invalidating myself for no reason. When I say “invalidate” my own feelings, I refer specifically to those pesky, persistent negative thoughts that I can’t put aside. Recurring bad thoughts become problematic, and so I will ask myself, “Why do you feel this way?” (You as in I, myself) and I will answer, truthfully, because the dialogue is between myself and I.
So, conversations will typically play out like this:
“I am a burden,”
“I am lazy, most of what I have is unearned, and I rely too heavily on the support of others,”
“Okay. But that doesn’t mean you’re a burden. You only feel as though you’re a burden. Let me ask, why do you feel that you’re lazy?”
“I am tired almost all of the time, and even when I am not tired, I lack the energy to finish everything I would like to get done.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re lazy. You should rest when you have the chance. Go to sleep early tonight. Make a list of what you have to get done tomorrow. Let me ask, why do you feel that most of what you have is unearned?”
And so, and so forth.
Eventually, the conversation resolves itself – stress is manageable because I can talk it away. I have a very good relationship with myself and I am happy that I am not as enclosed and reclusive as I once was.
Yet, there are setbacks. I am much less enclosed now, yes. I am much less reclusive now, yes, but I’ve been isolating myself lately (A/N: This section was written sometime in mid-February, 2020). I’ve been isolating myself because I’ve been struggling and there are many things I would rather not share with everyone because, to quote Kylo Ren, “I know what I have to do but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it”.
Speaking of Star Wars, have you (whoever might be reading this right now) seen Episode IX yet? The Rise of Skywalker? Can we talk about that ending? [SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS EPISODE IX INCOMING] Specifically, can we talk about that kiss between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in the last ten minutes of the film? Like, why was that there? Not only does it canonize Reylo and effectively retcon the last two or so movies (adding this strange rival-frenemy tension that really wouldn’t have been there otherwise) but it does so with one of the laziest redemption arcs in a series full of lazy redemption arcs (I typed this out last night but I realize now I was only referring to Darth Vader’s betrayal of Emperor Palpatine at the end of Return of the Jedi, but honestly? It’s still a pretty lazy redemption). It doesn’t make a lick of sense! The First Order annihilated five entire planets, their populations included!! You can’t just redeem yourself by doing a heel-face turn last minute (although I admit that this is what Darth Vader does in Episode VI, George Lucas doesn’t pretend Luke and Vader have this implied sexual tension between them in the last two movies just because they were mortal enemies! (I will also admit that, likely, neither characters are into incest, and Luke probably doesn’t have a thing for dudes with twenty-or-so-years-of-age-difference – but okay, imagine if Darth Vader was actually a genetically-unrelated Sith lady who also happened to be extremely easy on the eyes, too – imagine if Luke unmasks Vader and he meets this drop-dead gorgeous, now-morally-ambiguous femme fatale who has just betrayed her master to save him. Would Luke pretend the last two movies didn’t happen, or that Vader didn’t destroy an entire planet plus its population, or killed his mentor in cold blood, either? Would he go in for the kiss? Food for thought)).
A TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. Idiosyncratic Informalities (3)
2. The Cake is Implied (5)
3. Who Do You Think You Are, I Am!! (11)
4. It’s Who You Know (20)
5. The Long Way Down (21)
6. The Titanic Shadow of Charles Bukowski (25)
7. I Want Me, More Like Me (27)
8. The World is Turned Upside Down, and Now We’re Waiting for the Sun (31)
I’M RIGHT BACK TO SQUARE ONE. It’s almost as if the entire world decided to soft reset, and I’m at the very start of 2020 yet again.
I’m almost relieved that all of my options have been stripped away from me, violently, and with little warning. Now I know that this couldn’t have been avoided. This isn’t my fault. These are the circumstances that we are dealing with, together. None of us are free from pandemic.
And isn’t it so ironic that it took something as Earth-shattering as a new pandemic to remind us that there is inherent chaos in our lives that we lead that prevents us from truly ever being free?
At the drop of a hat, it could all change.
We are living, now, in uncharted territory. I can’t see into the future. I don’t have any kind of crystal ball that holds all of the answers.
This is our story now.
We do not control every aspect of our lives completely, but we do have agency over how we work within each of our own personal limitations, and how we react to those externalities outside of our control.
The change has swept me away, and I am now living for the future in front of me.
All at once I am overwhelmed, terrified, eager, and content.
I had some more points to make, but all of them have mysteriously vanished. I’ve lost track of my thoughts. The future is ahead of me, and I have some scary decisions that I need to make soon, or otherwise risk the safety net. Though, the safety net isn’t so bad. I can always start over.
I had some more points to make, but… so be it.
I hope by now, dear reader, you understand: I really did try, and it wasn’t enough – because it never could have been enough. I’m not sad about that anymore. I’m moving on. I’m over it.
I’m not upset. There is no sadness. There’s a relief, almost – a happy-sadness – knowing that we’re at the end of our roads now; from here on out, everything changes. Nothing will go back to the way it was, but we can hope for better things.
At some point, the fear melts away.
There is no other way, and there never was.
My conclusion is that I won’t give up, and neither should you.
We’ve our lives to put our work into the world and hope that it enriches someone’s lives in the ways our loved ones have enriched ours.
I will struggle, and eventually I will be okay – but today is not that day.
I love you all, I just don’t have a place here anymore.
Until you hear from me next, dear reader; here’s hoping.
I AM A LOSER BECAUSE I HAVE SO MUCH TO LOSE. I know that it won’t always be like this, but I feel indebted to those that have taken me this far. I’m afraid I won’t have what it takes to even be okay let alone repay the support I have received up until now.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been myself. I’ve been built on the support of others, and once that’s taken away, I won’t really know who I am. I’ve disrespected my boundaries countless times because I wanted to be okay, and now I’m here – and now I want to be my own person.
My friend Chelsie once gave me this advice: that so long as you’re doing what you want and making it work, that nobody can take that away from you. It doesn’t matter what other people think as long as you know you’re being yourself. So, act shameless, and pursue what you really want.
I’ve taken that advice to heart, but I’m still here.
I’m doing things I don’t want to do, so that eventually I can do what I want to.
This can’t be all there is to life. I know that.
I was going to live with my friends India, Dylan, and Colton, until a few weeks ago, where I learned that it wasn’t going to happen (A/N: About a month ago now). I was broken up about it for a while. I still am, but I’m getting better.
At this point, there’s nothing I can do to change what’s already been done, or rather, all that I haven’t done. There’s things I should have done, but it was already too late before the turn of the decade. Too little, too late. This is something I couldn’t have avoided, and I hate that, and I hate “could” and I hate “couldn’t” and I hate “should” and I hate “shouldn’t” and I hate “would” and I hate “wouldn’t” and I hate all of those fucking words.
I don’t like who I’ve been these last few months.
All I’ve been trying to do is survive and I still feel chastised at every turn. I feel like everything I’m doing is wrong. I haven’t earned anything. I want to be okay and I want the people that have helped me so far to be happy and proud of me. I can’t even enjoy baby steps anymore, the small successes are zilch to the goals I haven’t yet achieved.
My family must have little trust in me, and I couldn’t blame them. I don’t think very many of my friends trust me, either, and that’s fine – I’ve put too much trust into them for too long. If I can’t be okay for myself, I could never be okay for them.
I expect too much from myself, and from others.
India’s nickname for me was Jare-Bear. I noticed that she names a lot of her friends after animals, and I think that’s funny. Eventually, that nickname turned into Bear-Bear, and eventually that nickname turned into Bare-Bare.
I think I like it the most. It describes me where I’m at now: Bare-Bare. Simple, plain, unadorned, unembellished, and just enough to get by.
As another friend of mine once described himself, “Homely as sin and sick of pride”.
Of course, all of this is predicated on angst – as I’m sure is apparent by now.
Also, as I’m sure you’ve pieced together by this point, dear reader, I didn’t draft all of this writing in one sitting. What you’ve been reading up until this point has been rambling, musing, and contemplating over the course of some several weeks, beginning on Valentine’s Day(?) and continued until now: March 16th, 2020. 11:08 PM. This moment dies now, forever lost to the annals of history, but I will remember it.
I am listening to Bloody Mary, by Chihei Hatakeyama. The song is at 2:40.
It is 11:09 PM now.
Everything has changed from when I started to write this. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have any idea where I wanted this to begin or end. I wanted to say something. I felt waterlogged, sunken, drowned in all of life’s responsibilities, and suffocated.
All at once – on the precipice of the rest of my life, I could feel the future creeping in.
The future is now.
It’s been a month since I started this. Things have changed.
It’s 11:11 PM now. Make a wish.
It’s 11:12 PM. Too late.
I got an email today letting me know that one of my jobs is closing for several weeks, at least until April. I’m out of work until then. No word from my other job yet, but I am already anticipating that we’ll get that email tomorrow (A/N: We got that email).
To tell you the truth, I’m relieved.
The world had been collapsing around me for the worse half of February. March is a reprise insofar that it’s not solely my own world anymore. It’s everyone’s.
The irony is not lost on me. I spent months looking for a job somewhere, sending out resumes constantly, every day, everywhere, only to receive some halfhearted interview requests to fill out a queue every now and again, because I WANTED SOMETHING GOOD. I ruled out dishwashing early on specifically because I hated it so much. I’ve been a dishwasher before. Countless times. It’s the one job I specifically swore I would never do again.
And when I had no other options left? I did it again.
And when I finally got two jobs? It was already too late.
And when I finally started to settle into my new normal? The world stopped dead in its tracks.
It’s hard to deny that maybe the powers-that-be have simply conspired against me. It’s one thing to experience a string of bad luck, and it’s another thing entirely to reflect on how dearly the universe twists its circumstances to inconvenience us specifically.
We plan, God laughs.
To tell you the truth, I’m relieved.
The game was rigged from the start. I never stood a chance, really.
I couldn’t have predicted this. Nobody could have. Yet, here we are. Living our incongruous lives in the midst of pandemic, in self-quarantine, isolating ourselves from the world outside.
Life doesn’t seem so different to me.
It will get worse before it gets better. If you don’t prepare for the worst, you will never understand why all of your plans fell through.
The worst is yet to come. We will not grow, nor will we recover, until the worst is over. This too shall pass.
The best is yet to come. There is good pain that motivates us to be better, that reminds us all of what we have to lose; and there is bad pain, that does not contribute to our wellbeing at all. The bad pain is only there to remind us that hurt will not always help. The purpose of bad pain, then, is to let go of it.
After all, what is now compared to the rest of our lives? Now does not last long, and does not last forever.
I feel oddly at peace.
Even though the last month has felt like a series of doors slamming shut in front of me, I feel as though the path ahead is easier to navigate now. It is dark, and we will navigate the dark, together.
Either I will, or I won’t. Neither outcome is that scary.
I want to be here, because I want to try harder; and I can always give up, and I will be okay, but some people don’t have that luxury. I owe it to them, and to myself, to try harder.
I will suffer and I will hurt and that is okay because if that’s what it takes to make home for myself, then I will endure. This is where I want to be.
Everyone is struggling right now, and it’s worse than it has been before. This isn’t confined to a group of friends, or some family members, no, this is EVERYONE, all at once, all experiencing alienation and sudden, shocking upheaval from their day-to-day existence. I wouldn’t wish this kind of situation upon anyone – and now everyone is experiencing it.
My plight has been peanuts compared to what we’re dealing with now, and I was crying over not knowing where the next month or so would take me! Now, I don’t even know what tomorrow looks like.
Everything could change in the blink of an eye.
As Dylan put it, “All we can do is wait for whatever fresh hell comes tomorrow”.
I’ve been listening to a lot of KPOP recently. There’s a lot of catchy songs that I’ve been playing on repeat, but one song especially: that song is “No” by CLC.
KPOP already has some barriers to entry, most notably the language: although a lot of KPOP makes use of English, most of the lyrics will be in Korean. Most American listeners have to be wary of the language difference and be comfortable with NOT understanding most of the lyrics. Even so, languages will oftentimes blend, and sometimes Korean will be misunderstood as English, and vice versa.
“No” is a very short song, only clocking in at 3 minutes long, but it moves incredibly fast and is extremely catchy to boot. The main hook is spoken completely in English:
Red lip? No
High heels? No
The first time I heard this song and even a few times afterwards, in spite of knowing the name of the song, I always misheard “No” as “Now”.
There is a lot to be said about the KPOP industry, much more than I could say here and by people that are far more familiar with the politics in and surrounding it. I will say that I do believe the meaning in the song’s hook is apparent as a rejection of popular beauty standards. According to the Genius page, “CLC explained… that they wanted to deliver a lesson… [in that] people should stick to their own personality and find the real, authentic self”.
It is difficult to reconcile with that sentiment, but I believe that my own misinterpretation of the song’s main hook creates a duality between what I believe I’m hearing, and what the song is actually saying: KPOP has been described as a much more hyper-capitalist, indulgent, accelerated counterpart of American pop music and, in this context, my misunderstanding of the song lyrics reinforces this image – while the actual contents are actually the complete opposite (and, in either case, does not actually represent or reflect the reality of the content taken as a whole).
Then, take the chorus, which switches between English and then Korean. “I love me, I like it,” Elkie Chong sings, at once a strange affirmation of self-love (“I love me”) and then an affirmation of adoration for something else altogether (“I like it”). What exactly is “it” in this context? When she refers to “it” does she refer to her life? Does she love herself, and only “like” her life? Of course, there is a world of difference between “loving” and “liking” something, so then it begs the question why does she love herself and why does she only “like” her life?
The second spoken English line in the chorus is “I love me, walk like me,” sung by Oh Seung Hee, which again seems to contradict some earlier lyrical theming (if we are to assume that, “walk like me” is an invitation to imitate or emulate a person’s style).
However, for me personally, I had always heard the line as: “I want me, more like me,” and this interpretation has made more sense to me, and has much more potent thematic relevance.
Firstly, because a “want” conveys something that is desired but not necessarily required – secondly, because the idea reinforces the idea that you can always be more authentic, or more “yourself”.
It can also be interpreted the other way entirely – because there is so much emphasis placed on the individual, instead of actualization through radical individualism, Seunghee could also be saying that she wants to claim herself as a person (“I want me”) and that she wants other people to follow her lead (“more like me”) although, again, this is all presupposed because of the idea that these are the lyrics – which they objectively aren’t.
The final line from Seunghee, in Korean, is “Try it, if you want”. I believe this implies that imitating or emulating someone is not something to be ashamed of, but encouraged as a means of parsing out what IS or ISN’T oneself. We could liken one’s identity to an outfit, to be tried, and expressed, but not necessarily what one will always be wearing or base themselves on.
I believe that the metaphor is apt but, as any metaphor is, not perfect. Identity is an outfit that is something worn, expressed, and used to reinforce an image one has of oneself. An identity is separate from one’s life and indeed one’s own self, but it is a type of persona, or face (see Face theory), that communicates information to others as much as it is presented to examine how others perceive/receive this information.
When I say identity, I do not mean to limit it to any one type (gender, sexual, class, spiritual, age, national, etc.) but as any and all of the types suggested. It is one thing to wear an identity and express it openly (i.e. a person of religious faith wearing a cross necklace, or headscarves) and it is another thing to repress or hide an identity (i.e. a wealthy or affluent person dressing in thrift store clothes, or someone who identifies strongly with another gender but still conforms to their assigned gender at birth). It is because we are well-aware of the fact that there are some aspects of our identities that are disapproved of by some people, and insecurity can come from any numerous amount of sources – family life can oftentimes inform some insecurities later in life, and I’m sure that many people have acted out of some irrational fear based in childhood trauma or repressed anxiety that still resurfaces when confronting these contradictions towards their identity.
Take gender identity, for example. We are still struggling to accept nonbinary people into our society, and those that are opposed to their very existence oppress them and their voices, oftentimes without even realizing it. Identifying as nonbinary is an act of defiance against the zeitgeist we are born into – call it smug or holier-than-thou, but there is nothing as heart-wrenching as watching some people, people that I’ve grown close and attached to, having to constantly reaffirm their very existence and self-conception to other people over and over again.
Every time you misgender someone, you are invalidating their existence. Every time you dead name someone, you are invalidating their existence. Every time you ask for someone’s sex instead of respecting their gender identity, you are invalidating their existence.
Every time you invalidate someone’s existence, you marginalize them, cordon them into a space that you are unconcerned with, and effectively erase them from both your perception and from your world. They don’t exist to you. And if you are to protest, dear reader, then I’d ask you not to. I understand. If you’re not to concern yourself with someone based on some incompatibility that you feel is irreconcilable, then I understand, and maybe it is for the best that you do not associate with them, after all.
I would only like you to understand that if you do not take the time to learn and understand someone, you have erased them already.
When you erase somebody, you are communicating to them that their presence in your life does not matter or, what’s more, that their presence in your life does not matter as they are now. It is the erasure of respect and recognition that implies that someone cannot exist within your world without first adhering to your standards. It is also the adherence to these standards which is the privilege of those that can remain comfortably at-present with themselves. It is also this privilege that implies that one must change to fit other people’s standards, to be accepted and approved, instead of having that being accepted and approved as one is.
This isn’t to say that one should always remain stubbornly persistent or resilient in the face of opposition, as obviously there comes a point where criticism can reveal some underlying character flaw – although, this is hypothetical, and surely on a case-by-case basis – what I mean to say is that it is the privilege of those who have presence to dictate the terms and conditions of what it requires for one to exist in their space.
Returning to the metaphor of presence and of life being a “house,” we can imagine that there are probably some rules that visitors would have to abide by to remain in someone’s life. This is not inherently a bad thing. Being able to remove unhealthy or damaging relationships from one’s life is a personal agency that should be afforded to most people, “should” being the keyword.
Again, not everyone is always afforded the privilege of having presence. A house is not a home. There are always terms and conditions when living in a house that isn’t yours.
It is difficult to argue with an angry tenant that sinks to passive-aggressive over months, it is difficult to coordinate with roommates that have taken to isolate themselves or avoid paying rent or decide to move out with little justification or warning, and more than anything, it is difficult to live with people who encroach on one’s boundaries and instead turn to bitter and sour behavior when social cues are not properly understood.
But, you know what else is difficult? Not having a house.
Understand that there are worse alternatives, but the experience of being erased inside of a space that should promote support and stability can be distressing, especially because one might even start to believe that conceding one’s own boundaries is crucial to survival. This is, again, why I say that a house is not a home.
A house can be a home, but a house is that means to an end. A home is that end.
It is the privilege of tenants and homeowners (people that own houses, property, etc.) to decide who should live with them, or in their house(s), at all. Some people do not have this privilege, and I count myself as one of them.
It is difficult to envision myself without the support network that I have right now. My parents; my friends; my relatives; all of them have helped more than I could ever put into words. It is also difficult, then, to step outside of those boundaries without fear of losing some valuable benefit: there are some days where I want to be confrontational, but I choose not to. I choose not to because I am afraid that I will lose my support if I say the wrong things, and I am in no good position to lose what support I haven’t already lost.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE READ IT, AND IN THE INTEREST OF THOSE WHO MIGHT HAVE NOT READ IT BEFORE, what did you think, dear reader?
Did you like it, did you hate it? Let me know in the comments section down below.
As for what I think? I’ve never read Bukowski outside of the poem, so I don’t know. The guy has been dead for over 25 years now. If I ever met Charles Bukowski, had I been born 25 years earlier, I know exactly what I would say to him:
(A/N: I removed this entire section because of my colorful language. I believed it to be a little excessive and, really, to spare you, dear reader, from another one of my impetuous temper tantrums towards American authors and poets.)
…and maybe I would even regret saying those words! Because I never really knew him, and I know that all of his words must have come from somewhere – from experience, surely – and having looked up a brief biography of the man on poets.org (where I copied + pasted this poem from), the man also apparently worked as a dishwasher, so I feel for him. Maybe him and I were more alike than I’d like to think, or maybe not. He had 50 years on me when he kicked the bucket, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well for myself so far.
Anyways… LOOK, here’s the brass tacks: even if I do agree with some of what Bukowski is saying here about not being a writer for fame or sex (which, to be honest, you shouldn’t pursue any occupation for fame or sex), what is so wrong about being a writer for money? You think you’re better than me, you pretentious old fart?
so you want to be a dishwasher?
if you have to spray down the dishes
for more than five seconds
don’t do it.
if the thought of pushing an entire carton
of dirty dishes into a machine
and letting it do all the work
don’t do it.
Like, does it really matter if you’re not ready, Bukowski? Instead of offering advice to blossoming writers, your plan is to attack them for their inexperience and inauthenticity? Yeah, okay, big guy.
Even if I do agree with most of what he says, that still doesn’t excuse the fact that it is a deliberately self-indulgent piece which is a massive middle-finger to anybody that isn’t on the same level as him. Not everybody can be Charles Bukowski, yet here we are, cowering underneath his titanic shadow.
The king is dead. Long live the king!
Even so, all of that would be perfectly acceptable. But I will never, never accept Bukowski’s position on the pretense of this passage alone:
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
This is the essence of each and every “Fuck you” I have directed specifically at Charles Bukowski. I will never understand this dumb elitism and ubiquitous need to be unique as a writer. There is nothing so undermining and condescending and frankly pretentious as saying “don’t be like everyone else,” like, hey, no shit, pal? I’d like very much to be my own person, but we’re not there yet. I need to be a person before I can be my own person, and I struggle being a person every day of my life.
What’s more than that, though, is the statement “Don’t be dull and boring and pretentious,” written as if to mean anything. What is dull? What is boring? What is pretentious?
Most offensive of all, though, is the maxim “Don’t be consumed with self-love”.
This I cannot agree with in any capacity.
If I am to be consumed, I would rather have it be by myself than by an awful life I have resigned to.
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I HATE IT.
I hate it because I know he is speaking from a place of certainty. He believes this to be the truth, and there are many who will believe it to be the truth. But I know that, for certain, it’s simply NOT true.
This idea of virtuous suffering, of self-sacrifice being the greatest good… it’s not true.
If you are consumed by the flames of that burning passion that you give yourself to, then I’m afraid that’s it. There’s nothing after. You are consumed, and there is nothing left. You ought not to drive yourself to madness for the glory.
None of us are born with a value attached to us. There is a light only you can see, a significance that is only evident to yourself. Do not discount it for the world at large.
But maybe… just maybe I’ve read Bukowski’s words wrong. It’s a little hard to say for certain and, after all, the essence of art is that everything is open to interpretation – but I feel correct in my reading of Bukowski’s poem here.
Either the work says more about the artist, or the work says more about the reader, depending on the context.
Again, art is open to interpretation. It is one of art’s greatest strengths and its most reliable shortcomings. I could be dead wrong. But, you know what? Bukowski could’ve been dead wrong, too. You don’t need to listen to the preachy ramblings and poetic musings of a bunch of old coots to know that your feelings and experiences are valid. That’s a lesson I learned a long time ago.
Maybe Bukowski didn’t mean any of what I am accusing him of meaning here – absolutely – maybe my anger and distaste towards him is completely unjustified, but maybe that says more about me than it does about him. In that sense, perhaps my reaction is a valuable outcome in and of itself.
Again, there is considerable significance and value in the misinterpretation of words and their meaning.
I’VE BEEN IN THE COMPANY OF CATS FOR SO LONG NOW, I almost forgot that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. There’s a good chance I may not land on my feet this time.
All my plans have fallen through. Everything I was planning to do at this stage in life has been waylaid so that I might focus on being okay. I am locked into survival mode, being-to-be.
My behavior in the past month has been unacceptable. I’ll fully admit to that. I had to abruptly hang up on my mother while she was talking to me at one point, on the verge of tears, unable to speak. I was so upset I couldn’t even tell her why. My father texted me a while later, a long text that I’ve read over and over to myself. It ends with “I really expected better from you”. I never responded. I really expected better from myself, too. I don’t know how to respond to that.
I talked to my mother about it later. I talked to her through stifled, ugly crying. I hate to have people see or hear me when I’m so broken. I feel guilty even typing this. I’m alternating constantly between “She’s already done so much for me,” and “I wish she could support me more,” and I don’t mean financially, no, I’m saying this as someone who struggles to open up, to be honest, and to express myself. I still can’t be myself around my parents and that really fucking hurts sometimes (A/N: In hindsight, having written this, I don’t mean to undermine or downplay the significance of my parents’ contributions to my success as a student, and in general; my reasoning for this goes back to “boundaries,” but know that I do love my parents very much. Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this: I really want to work on our relationship together, and I hope that I can prove myself a better son than the person I am now. I endlessly appreciate your patience and support for me. I love you both so much).
The last month has been turbulent. I secured two jobs (two dishwashing positions, in Northeast and Southwest Portland, respectively) and I found out that I wouldn’t be living with my best friends in a month’s time. I’ve been planning this for a while, and so the news that I wouldn’t actually be a part of the process was heartbreaking. I mean that in every sense of the word. I really wanted this. This is the first thing I wanted so bad in such a long, long time, and knowing that it wouldn’t happen dealt such a blow to my ego that I honestly felt like calling it quits, packing up, and heading right back to where I started in Cali (A/N: This might still be the case as of now).
But, as my mother tells me, “Everyone struggles, struggling builds character,” and, more pertinently, “This is the worst of it, you’re at the bottom now”.
As much as I would like to believe that, however, I feel like it’ll get even worse before it gets better. I don’t feel like I’ve hit bottom yet. It’s such a long, long way down (A/N: This was written at the beginning of March).
I want to struggle. I’m here because I want to struggle. If I can quit at any moment, why would I not want to be here right now? Why would I want to take the easy way out?
Who do you take me for?
If you’re so concerned with the outcome and not the process, if all you do is cut corners, you’ll never grow as a person. I know that I’m slow, but I’m also deliberate. I’m learning. I’m getting better. It won’t be overnight, and it won’t be drastic, but I will be better and it will be sooner than you expect.
I know that my mother meant “Everyone struggles,” to deter me from putting myself under any more stress, to make me feel like I wasn’t alone – but I’m afraid she’s done the opposite. I know she wants me to be okay, and believe me, I do want to be okay, but I’ll never be okay if I can’t struggle for my own sake. I need to prove to myself that I can exist here because I want to, and not just because I have the privilege of existing here now.
There is considerable significance in the misinterpretation of words. There is also considerable value in the misinterpretation of words (in some circumstances).
A writer’s greatest tool is being able to carefully select the correct words to get their true meaning across: it is an honor to be able to translate one’s thoughts into words, but a daunting, paralyzing task at times.
At some point, the fear melts away.
Charles Bukowski published a poem once, entitled “so you want to be a writer?”
If you haven’t read it, here it is, in its full, unedited glory:
THROUGHOUT 2018 AND MOST OF 2019 I WAS VERY CONCERNED WITH MY OWN HEALTH, and I took an hour or so out of each and every day to exercise and work out so that I might offset my diet of junk food and carbohydrates with some kind of physical activity. Working out is good for you, after all – and I thought that if I can do good and be fulfilled then I am living a life that is both good and fulfilling.
I started 2020 much the same and quickly set aside my regular routine, for many reasons.
I’m losing motivation, for one; for two, it’s a time investment, and I am running exceptionally low on time nowadays; third, and perhaps this is the one that has been the determining factor (and I suppose this goes hand-in-hand with the time investment bit), is that it’s become less of a priority to be healthy and more of a priority to exist.
The prospect reads like a contradiction, but I assure you that anybody who has lived a day in this life knows what I mean when I say that I am focusing on getting by.
I am no longer investing into long-term goals and my own presence-beyond-now. I am only investing into what is immediate and certain: I need to work, and to pay rent, and to find someplace to live, etc. etc.
It is the privilege of those who are well-adjusted and certain of their life’s trajectory that can invest in their future. I belong to the caste of people whose existence is the day-to-day.
Being a college graduate is not all what I thought it was cracked up to be. I’m beginning to realize that college is, and has always been, a waste bunker meant for burnouts and people who don’t know what they want to do after high school, of which I belong to both categories.
I could have spent the last four years working for money. Instead, I spent the last four years paying an institution so that I might access a much more prestigious version of my high school, and so that I might boast the accolade of having a Bachelor’s degree on my job resume (also, for those curious, I doubt it makes any kind of difference – nobody has actually offered me an interview for any kind of career in my field; if you’re thinking of attending college because it’ll land you a “good job”, save your money).
It is more accurate to say that college is a full-time job that you pay for. If you go into a college or university without already having a clear plan for your future, you’ve already set yourself up for failure, and I don’t mean to come off as condescending or to say “Failure to plan is planning for failure,” but if you don’t gear yourself towards a career during college, you will not reap the full benefits from your experience there. I say this as someone who has graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in communications and, as I’m sure you’re probably wondering, dear reader, “What exactly is communications?”
The joke is that, even in the communications department, communications is very vague and ill-defined. If you asked me to describe it, I would say it’s a little bit of marketing, a little bit of public relations, and a little bit of sociology for good measure, but without any real strong focus on any. I picked communications as a major only because Portland State University didn’t offer any majors in writing, so I chose a writing minor instead. I wanted communications to really “open up” any opportunities in terms of career choice. I’m not someone who wants to limit myself to any one career path, and being flexible job-wise has always been something I’ve really wanted.
The mistake I made was treating college as another “high school”.
So, if you’ve yet to attend college or university, and your main goal is to “get a good job”… in spite of my recent warning to “save your money,” my only advice would be this: college is not high school, and the work you put in will come secondary to the time you invest in networking. Colleges have many resources dedicated to helping students and alumni find post-graduate work, and I recommend you use those resources while they’re available to you, or risk squandering your work in mediocrity for a piece of paper that really amounts to a glorified gold star for participation.
College is a disgusting hybrid of high school and a full-time job. Treat it as such.
I interrupt my regularly scheduled writings to insert my first book review.
“My Name Is Romero” is a poetry book written by Mexican-American spoken word artist David A. Romero, and (soon to be) published by FlowerSong books.
Although the book acts as an anthology, it is still closely bound by the recurrent themes of lineage and identity. Nowhere is this more evident than the eponymous first poem, which is a title track of sorts – an introduction to the anthology, and the author. “My Name Is Romero” is a declaration, an affirmation, and a statement of purpose: all of this poem culminates in an excellent metaphor, in which Romero proclaims and muses, “That we are all the children of Africa / Roots of no single family tree / But of a flourishing forest / That grows majestically / Towards a magnificent destiny / Shining / Radiant beauty / Just please / Close your eyes / And you can see it…”
The denouement of this first piece, then, is scaling back down, and returning to the name of the book and of the poem. “Because if you’re not proud of who you are / Then what’re you gonna be proud of?” It is a resounding statement of power, and one that resonates throughout each and every poem that succeeds it.
As a mixed-latinx person myself, I still struggle with my own identity. It is difficult to identify with any strong family ties or ancestry because that wasn’t the family environment I grew up with. My skin is darker than my mom’s but lighter than my dad’s, and I’ve been acutely aware of my denomination as “white passing” for a while now. I can still remember when a group of friends, people that I genuinely liked, were surprised that I considered myself latinx – and then went onto tell me that I wasn’t latinx at all, but actually white. At the time, I accepted their words as truth (after all, they were white as well, so it was almost as if the decision to call me white was meant to be an induction into whiteness), but as I reflected on the event, it began to upset me more and more. I suppose that the phenomenon of “not being latinx enough” will be a recurring nightmare for many mixed-latinx kids – a trauma that will be experienced many times over. Reading Romero’s first poem, I felt an instant connection that persisted well after I had finished reading. There was an earnest pathos: I found someone who must understand my own struggles with identity. I had come to understand Romero’s words vicariously, and it was an important connection for me.
Again, although the book acts as an anthology, there are some recurrent themes that persist. The second poem, although a self-contained narrative on its own, incorporates lineage in its story through generational trauma (and the allusions should be obvious to anyone who is aware of, or has been directly affected by the conditions imposed upon migrant peoples by American border security) and identity through the story’s framing device of a football game. The metaphorical significance of running away and keeping a low profile is contrasted with the poem’s subject, Miguel, and how badly he wants to claim victory over his opponents.
There are many other gripping narrative poems on display, especially in the sections “Flowers” and “Beloved”, but Romero puts his best foot forward first and offers a healthy selection of selected works that emphasize his lineage, his identity, and his political predispositions. The words are also beefed up with some spicy humor which accent some works, as in “Pardon My French” where Romero tells us that “In high school / I took French instead of Spanish / Got A’s in my classes / Wanting to French my French teacher / Ooo la la!”; in other cases, as in “That’s a Wrap / Ode to the Burrito,” the humor is the work’s main attraction while still managing to balance out a serious political statement about cultural appropriation.
Each work manages its own compound of these constituent elements, some such as “Gorilla Arms” and “Micro Machines” focusing more on individual experiences and stories, while works like “Poor, Poor Spaniard,” “Who Wins?” and “Patriots & Lunatics” are much more politically charged, ardent, and serious. Yet, there are still poems such as “Black and Brown: Fight Tonight!” which are skewed towards the more political end of the spectrum which still blend humor and playful metaphor to great effect.
My favorite poem from the first section comes at the very end. “Grandfather Tells Time” has a very unique, wistful ambiance to it that sharply contrasts with everything come before it. It is all at once calm and sad and beautiful. It makes me feel the same way I do as when I listen to the Caretaker album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.
The second section, “Flowers” has much more ambitious, historical narratively-focused poems. Nowhere better is this exemplified than “Concierto de al-Andalus” which tells the story of Aderfi, an Imazighen villager kidnapped by pillaging Moors and separated from his wife – the poem has an epic scope, but only lasts for about as twice as long as any other poem contained within this collection.
Then, there is “Lili’uokalani” which is a poem presented as a letter written by Julius A. Palmer, Jr. It is both creative in subject matter and presentation, and surely stands out as exceptionally unique from anything come before it.
Although “Flowers” offers a much bolder, refined style of poetry, the third and penultimate section of the book, “Beloved” distills some of the previous sections’ pronounced narratives and creates with it a brilliant, striking series of descending poems: “Secret Beaches” leans into nostalgic love lost, and “The Woman with Many Names” revives much of the first section’s playful humor.
“It Could’ve Been Magic” is my favorite poem in the book by far, so much so that I feel it necessary not to talk about here lest I accidentally spoil my favorite parts. The section ends with “Rosemary,” one of the shortest poems – its title recalling an earlier footnote, and its subject matter returning to family: it is much more personal and somber than any other poem in this section.
The final poem, “Our Name Is Romero” has a section of its own, “Etymology”, properly bookending the experience in one climactic stroke. What I find most prominent is that the poem draws attention to Bartolome II, “The Last Great Conquistador”. It is another somber interval, wherein Romero recounts a myriad of grave actions that earned Bartolome the title of “butcher”. Although, the past is not erased, he says, “This Bartolome / This Romero / He is a part of us / He gave us our name. / What follows / Is what we make”.
It is a powerful conclusion, and another great contrast between the ideas explored at the beginning and the end of the collection: whereas Romero wears his name with pride in his poems at the beginning, there emerges a maturity in both the tone and style of the writings in the second and third sections, looking to the past, both in life and lineage, to learn and to grow; in “Our Name Is Romero,” the name is worn with both pride and humility, as a legacy and a responsibility.
I could sing more praise, but I would rather recommend the book outright: my favorite poems are “It Could’ve Been Magic,” “Lilli’uokalani,” “Grandfather Tells Time,” “Gorilla Arms,” and “Undocumented Football”. If you are latinx or mixed, I could not recommend this book to you enough – if you are not latinx or mixed, I would still recommend this if you enjoy storytelling in poetry. There is a story here that extends beyond the words and the pages, and it is wholly engrossing experience to behold.