Monday, May 14, 2018

The Virtual Rabbit Hole

I recently found myself falling down the social media rabbit hole…again.  It starts simple enough: I’ve been teaching for five hours and get home exhausted, and I’m looking to unwind.  The house is quiet, I’m stuck on the couch with sore legs, and I grab my iPad.  A couple of hours later, I’ve watched countless YouTube videos, scrolled through Facebook, checked and responded to emails from students and colleagues, returned to Facebook to see what I missed…you know the drill.

But one night I stumbled across an article talking about how social media can “kill” creativity.  And in that same week I read that The Roots’ drummer, Questlove, wrote a book about the same topic (Creative Quest), as have countless of other authors (just Google “Can social media kill creativity?”…but if you get trapped and find yourself reading articles about green-haired fish becoming extinct, don’t blame me.)

The effect social media can have on our lives is nothing new.  In fact I teach a composition course addressing the various articles regarding social media's addictive impacts on the brain, as well as the positive and negative outcomes that it can have on our relationships with ourselves and others…but what I had failed to realize was how social media had an impact on my own creative process.

For the past 11 years I’ve been an Instructor in academia, which means I’ve taught, to date, roughly 1,800 students (if I add up the amount I’ve graded, I may cry and retreat to YouTube, so bear with me).  To say I'm busy during a regular semester is an understatement.  But why, then, was I not being more creative over the summer?  Part of it was definitely the need to unwind, yes.  But during that time away I often felt the pressure not just to write, but to write something “of worth.”  These pressures can not only be overwhelming, but they can halt creativity altogether. 

What I was struggling to figure out, however, is how the pressures today were different from when I was in graduate school.  I was na├»ve back then, yes, and fearless, but I’ve always faced (harsh) criticism with an “I’ll show you” mentality.  But the past few years have been different, and I was looking for an answer.  I never realized that my retreat into social media to fill voids could be one of the causes for my creative decline.

Everyone is different in his/her creative process, but when I started to think about when I’ve been most creative, it’s been in those quiet moments of boredom.  Of silence.  And in those moments I would paint or write or play guitar or draw.  It wouldn’t always be anything extraordinary, but at least I was being creative.  I didn’t think about if someone would “like” my poem or “love” my painting – I did it because it’s a part of who I am.  I need creativity to survive.

What’s the point of all of this?  The point is that I’m here writing again.  That I put down my iPad on the first day of summer break.  And to remind myself that some days I need to step away from the virtual world and enter the creative one.

So if you'll excuse me, it's time to shut down my Mac.  There's a poem I need to write.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Poem for Marthe

The Sound of Blue
for Marthe Reed

Walking through thunder
under a sky

crying for black to break,
I remember blue -

azure hues you blew
from your cupped palms

across the sea
into coils of white foam

fingers at my feet.
I lean into the sea

listening to waters hemorrhage
hymns of "she is no longer."

It begins to rain.


The best way I could think to honor your memory, Marthe, was to write a poem.  I hope that wherever you are, you can see the beauty of blue.  And memories.  And feel the love we are sending you.  I'll miss you, my friend.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

No Children on Mother's Day? You Are Not Alone.

On this Mother's Day, I find myself closing in on the one-year anniversary of my hysterectomy, and I have yet to really write or talk much about the experience. I actually had plans to blog my way through recovery, but it was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I ran into some difficulties along the way, but I also found myself overly protective about my body, as well as what I was facing emotionally.  But on this Mother's Day, I wanted share some of those thoughts, mainly thanks to a couple of Facebook posts, which addressed the fact that, for some, this holiday can be a painful reminder for women who did not necessarily choose not to have kids.  What I appreciated most about these posts was simply the recognition that not all holidays are joyous occasions for everyone, and that we should not only be cognizant of that fact, but also, not be afraid to talk about those instances as well.  Social media often glorifies our life experiences, which I am all in favor of, but I also think that it needs to be a space open for the realities/challenges of our lives as well.  

So with that in mind, I begin...

Like most young girls, I dreamed of the day that I would have kids of my own, and all the memories you might associate with that: The pregnancy, the middle of the night feedings, the first day of school, the first Christmas, the first overly-frosted sheet cake...maybe an occasional diaper change, but only if I could pull my T-shirt over my face.

But as I moved through my 20s and 30s, I realized that having children might never in the cards for me.  I slowly began accepting that fact, with the thought of adopting never far from my mind.  By the time I met my husband (we married when I was 41), he had two kids of his own, and I was in and out of my doctor's office with severe endometriosis, a "diseased" uterus (my doctor's words), cervix, and ovaries. (I had a cyst so big one time that the tech told me I should name "her." We settled on Celeste.)   In fact, the only ultrasounds I've ever experienced were to check on the (lack of) progress during hormone therapy. One day I even had an expected mother walk over to me in a waiting room full of pregnant mothers and hand me some chocolate . To this day, I wish I had given her a hug and thanked her. We never said a word to one another, but she understood this wasn't a joyful moment for, I'll never fully know.  I do know that she made me smile as I watched mothers waiting to find out if they were having a boy or a girl.

I was so moved that I went home that afternoon and wrote a poem.

Last February, after twenty years of living with this disease, my doctor entered the waiting room and told me, "It's time." I don't regret the decision I made to have a hysterectomy  but I still grieved the loss.  It wasn't that I still thought I might have kids, but I was letting go of the dream that I had as a young girl.  My longing to have children is temporarily filled when my stepchildren are here, but the thought of what might have been creeps in on days like today when social media is flooded with images of daughters and sons embraced in their mother's arms. 

What I've learned over the years, and what I want so share here, is that you should not be made to feel like you can never truly know what "real" love is, or that your life will not be complete because you could not have children. You may lose friends along the way who can no longer "connect" with you -- you who does not understand late night feedings you once dreamed about.  However, your real friends will bring you along for the ride and not push you away because of those differences.  Before my step kids came along, I actually found myself at one of my best friend's houses Trick-or-Treating with her children. I found myself on the playground with students I taught.  And when the kids came into my life, I could find joy in reading to my step daughter in bed the night before we had to drive her back home.  Is it the same? Of course not.  Will you still feel some sadness now and again?  Absolutely.  And that's ok.  I think it's normal, actually.  What you thought your life would look like does not match up with where you are.  

I found new ways of defining what family could be.  And my life is richer for those experiences.  You may never get to know what being a mother is like, but you can know and experience joy in other ways. Our lives take unique paths and make us who we are, and some decisions are made for us. It's not always what we want, or what we expected, but how we move forward is our decision to make. 

So to those of you who are like me on this Mother's Day, I just wanted to say: You are not alone.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What's on My Mind: The Social Media Dilemma

I remember seeing a show many years ago that talked about empathy.  The story went as follows:

Imagine that you are in your car, and someone cuts you off.  You will often react by honking your horn, yelling obscenities, or feeling angry. 

Now imagine that you are walking down the street, and someone cuts you off by bumping into you.  If the other person apologizes, you continue on your way; no harm, no foul.  If not, you may grumble something under your breath, but you are less likely to cause a scene or audibly vocalize your anger.

Why?  When we are in our cars, we feel a sense of protection.  We are yelling at a vehicle, an object.  But when an actual person bumps into us, we are face-to-face with a human being.  We are no longer “protected” by a vehicle, we are forced to look one another in the eye, and, therefore, more likely to be empathetic to the other person's (unintentional) actions. 

I was reminded of this story as I spent another day scrolling through my Facebook page. I began to think that this is what’s happening to us on social media.  We are “protected” in a virtual world.  We aren’t looking people in the face as often when we speak our minds, and, as a result, we seem to be losing our sense of empathy.  

I know that for many this is nothing new; however, I think we are seeing an increase in the lack of empathy that has been taking place.  For example, I stumbled across a political post this morning and clicked on the comment section, only to see comments quickly becoming verbal attacks, the argument nowhere to be found.  Words like, “You are disgusting for thinking this,” “You’re a f*ing idiot,” “Why don't you shut the f* up,” etc.  I wanted to take a break from this, so I went on my neighborhood group page to see what was happening in the neighborhood.  I found myself falling further into the rabbit hole.

I have often wondered when social media turned into what it has now become: both an immense connector and divider at the same time (in the words of Jon Stewart). The trend was moving in this direction before this past year (though many will argue that it has become exacerbated).  Perhaps it’s a by-product of our “tell us what you think” culture.  Perhaps we are becoming more comfortable with using social media as a platform to express how we think or feel.  

Nevertheless, what is unique to social media is how we are communicating our oppositions or disagreements.  In the past we would sit down, face to face with one another, and express how we felt.  Now?  Now we are communicating with a computer screen between us, and like being in the car, there is an inexplicable barrier between “me” and “you” when people don’t see the way the other does.  Or see why the other person does.

The result?  Verbal attacks on one another.  And when these attacks happen to my own friends or are attacks on what I fundamentally believe and hold to be morally and ethically true, I have been hitting three buttons:  Unfriend.  Unfollow.  Delete.  (I do, however, see the inherent danger in doing that as well.) And that has included deleting my own posts -- posts about what I believe in, links with videos supporting those beliefs, articles where I was shaking my head "yes" over and over -- because I didn't want to have to sort and sift through the comments on that particular day.  I had had enough.  

What I can’t delete, unfortunately, and what I can’t ignore is the impact this is having on my understanding of community.  My understanding of empathy.  I've found myself repeating in my head, "I wonder what Dad would think.  I wonder what my grandparents would say."  They've been gone long before social media made its debut.  But the reality is, even if they were alive today, we would be having that conversation in person...over "coffee milk" on the front porch.

While I don’t know what to do about that in a virtual world, I find that I try to leave it as often as I can.  To reach out to people and meet face to face.  To fight for a cause I think is important.  To pick up a poem, a short story, a play and remember the importance in doing so. But at the end of the day, I still find myself going back.  I guess I still long for the sense of connection, the sense of community that I once found there.  Maybe it still is there, and I’m just having a hard time seeing past the cars that continue to cut me off without recognition or acknowledgement of who I am as a human being.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Je T'aime, Lafayette

Last night I found myself up until about 2AM reading news reports and Facebook posts about the shooting in Lafayette, and I have not been able to detach myself from the computer today.  Friends and family have all been accounted for, but making sense of it all is far from over.  And maybe that's what I'm doing...trying to make some sense from this.

Lafayette has always been more "home" to me than where I was born.  My father's family still resides just south of there where I myself own land, and I would spend my summers on the farm with my grandmother until two years ago when she passed away.  When my father died, it was the first place I wanted to be.  Because Acadiana is a place unlike anywhere else.  I am often reminded of this when I've been away for a while and then walk into an establishment...any, retail, gas station, bank...I'm not just greeted by a "smile," but by genuine people having genuine conversations.  By people who see my maiden name (and know how to spell and pronounce it), ask who my family is, and then proceed to tell me they went to high school, played with, lived down the street from them.

Lafayette is about community.  A group of people who will do anything for each other in times of need.  During Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, I remember report after report on the news of someone taking a pirogue down the bayou, tools from the shed, sweat off their backs to help one another.  After Lily, my family gathered on our property and cleared trees, fallen branches, and then sat on the porch to drink a beer.

What hurt me last night is knowing that in a place of hundreds of thousands of people, at least one of my friends would know one of the victims (and, after this morning, I've come to find out the number is quickly rising).  Because despite its numbers, Lafayette is a strong community.  People know one another.  Celebrate one another.  Support one another.

This "man" came in and devastated a town, a community, and today my heart goes out that community I know and love.  I know that in the next few days you will be searching for answers, saying your prayers, wondering "why" this had to happen and continues to happen...again...and again...and again.  I am searching for those answers myself.

I know that in the next few days, you will come together as you have done time and time again.  In each other's kitchens, under the carport, in the Parc.  For those of us who can't be there, our thoughts are with you.

My heart goes out to you, Acadiana.  Stay you have done time and time again.

Je T'aime, Lafayette.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Giving New Life to The Exhibit

After eight years, I have finally decided to brush the dust off my dissertation play, The Exhibit.

On my way in and out of rehearsals the past several weeks, I was feeling the excitement once again that I had when I first wrote the play. I walked onto the stage to place the charcoals, buttons, fabric, and I questioned why it had taken me so long to step foot on the stage again. But I know the answer. I have just not allowed myself to speak it in public. And with this second life to my first play, it's time.

Many of you know the story. Many of you will not want to hear it again. Some have their own versions. But this one is mine. And I claim it as my own, in my own words.

It was a rainy Thursday night back in 2007. My friend and I had just finished up dress rehearsals and were standing outside a diner at 10pm. We noticed how hard it was raining. One of those fast, pouring, Louisiana rains. What I didn't know was that my friend Shelley was on a highway with her visiting friend heading back from a day of sightseeing.  What I didn't know is that her car had been hit from behind by an impaired driver going to fast. That the car hit a tree head on. That she died instantly.

The next day I was teaching my final drama class, and I saw our graduate advisor pacing outside my door. I thought little of it. When I finished my class, she took me around the corner and told me to sit down. She told me that Shelley was dead.

The next few hours only contain images. Images of her face. Images of standing in the department office. Images of standing in my own office.

I would later be driven to Shelley's house where her roommates were all gathered from across campus. We sat there in the den. At the kitchen table. Shelley had just made Nanaimo bars. They were still sitting on the table.

I don't know how much time passed, but I found myself at a table with her roommates, her friends. Her family was flying in for graduation in a few short days. Her classes had to be wrapped up. Her clothes had to be packed up. And we had to face the truth.

Soon the department head and assistant head were at the table with us. Who could help...who knew where her papers were kept...who would take over the final days of her classes. And then, the topic switched over to the play.

The play.

My friend and I were supposed to be in a play that night.  We had been rehearsing for about a year. It was one-night only.

When you hear about playwrights who see their plays as something that becomes a part of them, like an only child, or an appendage, or part of the soul, this is what it meant to this playwright. This director. And we loved and respected her for that.

But when asked if I could perform that night, I hesitated. I knew what that would mean to the director. I knew, deep down, that this would hurt her. But I also knew that I was hurt. And I asked if I could perform the next night. I needed another day. I couldn't go on.

That one decision would have major repercussions. The time I needed from the loss of my friend would equate to the loss of several more. It divided the cast in two. I lost my mentor, my friend. People closest to me told me their thoughts and feelings. They told me the other people's responses were selfish. Were irrational. Were to be ignored.

But the damage was done. To me. To them. And it was exacerbated when I decided, a few days later, to go on with a staged reading of my dissertation, The Exhibit.

How could I do that? How could I give a reading of my play when I had not done the other one? Meetings were held with the cast without me. My voice was silenced. My story would not be told. The story about how I wanted to do the play the next night. The story about how I didn't go to the department head to "rat" anybody out. The story about how I went in there to talk to her about Shelley's memorial and she closed the door and asked me what was going on with the cast and if we should have a meeting. And how I said I would love that but didn't want to cause anymore trouble. About how I sat in a friend's apartment and cried because the cast met without telling me. Because they were too upset to look at me. To listen to me. To hear me say I was sorry. I was grieving. But they'd say they were, too.

And I've held onto that story publicly for eight years.  And now it's time to let go.  Why? Because I need to. I need to honor Shelley, the play, the time I spent with those cast members, my director and mentor, all of whom I loved.  And it's time to write drama again. It's time to be on the stage again. Because since that time I have not written a new play. I have not allowed myself to enjoy the stage, a place I know and love.

I can't go back and undo the past. And, first and foremost, I would undo the loss of Shelley.

But the losses that I have experienced have made me who I am.  Cliche?  Perhaps. But it's also true. And the older I get, the more I know this hard truth as well: not everyone will approve of your choices. You lose people you love.  Some will come back into your life. Some you will never see again. And that is life.

But tonight, the show will go on.  The lights will come up. My play will find a new voice, new memories.

And for that, I am thankful.  And so, it begins.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Stay connected.  Today
feeding Facebook with news-
worthy tweets and snapped chats
tumbled in an instant…
forty-three minutes of
morning scrolling through words
scanning phrases so I
can move on, move into
the next and the next and

stay connected.  Today
is different because
he told me to “look up”
she told me to forget
my phone, and I’ll see how
one generation is
not at fault.  It’s not a
click away from our down-
fall.  Rock ‘n roll still swings
the pendulum and the
devil – he never came.

Stay with me.  Today I
started thinking about
grandmother’s rocking chair
in the kitchen corner
coffee in my hand, just
to make me feel older
than single digits, and
hums from the wall unit
and gears shifting, never
without white noise, never
without my grandfather’s
garden tomatoes fresh
from the morning darkness.

I was thinking about
my grandmother’s crippled
hands holding the wooden
spoon, spooning cornbread from
mixing bowls and Blackburn’s
syrup in mason jars
sweet as the fig tarts in
the orange Tupperware
there in the middle of
her kitchen table.  We
finish conversation
just after 10pm.
Just after I type this

I’ll update my status
and make sure that I stay
connected.  But I start
thinking about my aunt
before cancer erased
the left half of her side
before I lied down in
the shoulder’s crease when she
said she would miss me and
I cried until…She sat
with me in her kitchen

(bright yellow walls made her
happy) and she taught me
lessons, told me advice,
forgot time was passing
past midnight.  I wanted
to remember it all.
I do remember this:
How I learned the meaning
of being connected –

the slow turn of her wrist
smells of Community
a steady hum through coils
waves of her long, grey hair.
These memories cannot
be deleted or be
updated or exceed
the word limit.  They are
what keep me, what shape me,
what I promised you: I
won’t stop writing.  This is

for the women in life
who always stay with me.  



Stay connected.  Today
updating the Facebook feed or
typing Twitter characters until
what is Upworthy
must be shared,
this album must be liked,
accept a Friend Request from, who?
Forty-three minutes of morning
scanning words
glancing phrases
so I can move on
move into
the next and the next and…

Stay connected.  Today
will be different because
he told me to “Look Up”
she told me to forget my phone
and I’ll see how that changes
or rearranges the time.
It’s not a generation at fault.
It’s not a click away from our downfall.
Rock ‘n roll still swings the pendulum
and the devil never came. 

Stay with me.  Today
I started thinking about
my grandmother’s rocking chair
kitchen corner
coffee in my hand
just enough to make me feel
older than single digits
the hum of a wall unit and the gears shifting
never without white noise
never without my grandfather’s tomatoes
fresh from the morning darkness
just beyond the utility door.

I’m feeling more connected.

I started thinking about
my grandmother’s crippled hands around
a wooden spoon spooning cornbread mix
from the mixing bowl painted with green and red
and the Blackburn’s syrup in the honey jar
sweet as fig tarts in the plastic orange Tupperware
in the middle of the kitchen table
in the middle of a conversation.
Just after 10pm.

Just after I type this
I’ll update my statuses and iTunes and apps and
make sure I stay connected. 

But I started thinking about
my aunt before cancer erased
the left half of her body
before I lied down in the crease of her shoulder
and she said she would miss me
and I cried until…
she sat with me at her kitchen bar
(bright yellow walls made her happy)
and she taught me lessons and told me advice and
forgot that time was passing past midnight.
I wanted to remember our time
but all I remember is this:

How I learned to stay connected with
the turn of her wrist
the smell of Community
the hum through the coils
the wave of her long, grey hair.

These memories cannot be deleted or updated or
exceed the word limit. 
These memories are 
what keep me
what shape me
(what I promised you:  I won’t stop writing).

This is for the women in my life who will always
stay with me.