Tag Archives: journal

Remembering Anthony Bourdain Pt II

Last night I fell asleep to the sound of Anthony Bourdain’s voice. He did not appear as an apparition.

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 6.08.01 PM
“fish”, lol

I realize what I’m about to say may sound blasphemous to many of you, but I sometimes forgo handheld books for audiobooks. The reason being, I’m busy as hell, and it helps me fall asleep 99% of the time. This habit started a little over a year ago when I started commuting across the longest bridge in the world.

I know what you’re thinking…that’s one expensive habit. FYI, you can rent audiobooks for free if you have a library card.

The point though, is that Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw is read by the author himself, and it is pretty damn phenomenal. There are many poignant parts about his feelings on suicide, which are both intriguing and hard to listen to now. It’s quite a window into his motivations.

For instance, near the beginning of the book, he says that when he got his first show and stopped working day-to-day, his life descended into chaos. You can also tell he is hyper aware of his privilege by the way he often calls himself out or glazes over these moments, detracting from his own pain and experience, but they’re still there.

I guess I recognize some of myself in Bourdain’s autobiography. Mainly these moments of complete self destruction and moments when he, despite his better judgement, goes along with questionable people and situations because he is bored of his life and monotony.

What I find interesting though is how often in interviews and in the book he lives on this edge of craving routine and also detesting it. It seems like no matter what he does, including travelling the world with a TV show, he eventually becomes numb to any moment of pleasure. Of course, this is exactly how depression works, and, once someone has it, their chances of relapsing skyrocket.

I had a strange moment last night where I thought, maybe there is something to that whole positive attitude thing. Although, for the most part, I believe depression to be both chemical and situational, which takes more than merely redirecting your thoughts to come out from under. Bourdain was very candid in his books and sometimes in his shows, but he clearly, and often, redirected his suicidal thoughts in front of others almost as quickly as they appeared.

One thing that stuck out in the book is just how frequently he played with death. In most of his anecdotes, it’s always at the edge, if not the forefront of his thoughts. In chapter two, we learn that he regularly let the next song on the radio determine whether or not he drove off of a cliff while living in the caribbean. Listening to this, I wondered how Anthony Bourdain ever made it to 61 years old. To say that he had a death wish was to put it mildly.

Still, his writing as a whole and descriptions are incredible. I am now convinced that he could have lived another life as a successful fiction novelist. Until last night, I seemed to have forgotten all about the explosive memoir that pushed him into the limelight in the first place, Kitchen Confidential (2000), which he discusses in Medium Raw (2010).

You can bet he used this follow up as an opportunity to go in on the Food Network and celebrity chefs once more. But, as we now know, the Food Network actually gave Bourdain his big break with the show No Reservations. Eventually though, he recognizes himself as a sellout. To make matters worse, they pull his show after realizing that audiences will eat up dumbed-down, buzzfeed-style TV features. This is a big point of contention for him in the book, particularly the way the network begins using anti-immigrant, anti-poc, anti-diversity language in reference to his show.

Where most people might move on from something like this fairly quickly, I get an overwhelming sense of hopelessness from Bourdain, even now, as he recalls something from his past. It’s like every moment, every event, every interaction in his life left a lasting mark. Hearing his voice through my headphones as I writhe around in sleep is both soothing and unsettling. 

I could probably write my own book about this, but, alas, I must go. However, if you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain and want more insight into this recent tragedy and into who he was, I recommend starting at the source.

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How I Was Misdiagnosed with Depression for 24 Years

Today, I’m going to address something I rarely talk about online that most certainly (and often unknowingly) impacts the everyday lives of countless women, myself included. To give you an idea of how something like a 24-year misdiagnosis happens, I’ll start with some personal history.

If you don’t care about any of that, skip to the “Why Women Are Left Behind” section.  

******

For 24 years of my life, I was misdiagnosed with major depression and bipolar type-II. This started clinically when I was 11 years old, but, as a young child, I remember a darkness coming over me and taking root, like the difficult kudzu you must fight to keep from swallowing a town.

I remember writing in an attempt to make sense of my reality, to carve out a world I could call home, a place where I had permission to feel both adequate and happy.

There were situational events that made me feel wretched, but they weren’t at the heart of the chronic rain cloud that followed me around. However, these experiences gave me an excuse to grab onto other emotions like anger which, temporarily, made me feel in control of my life and my feelings.

I think that we can all agree that these are childish coping mechanisms most of us grow out of eventually. For me, this process has been difficult, and the journey isn’t over yet. It is not enough to merely admit the problem or the cause. Changing our behavior and way of thinking is the hardest part.

In my case, I didn’t understand the problem until I was 24 years old.


There’s Your Sign

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time being punished in the classroom. My teachers were always shouting my name as though an acrid taste had just entered their mouths; their words like newly slung arrows lodged in my chest.

Despite the fact that this happened constantly throughout the day, every day, I found myself blindsided and demoralized each time. I still couldn’t control myself.


Whenever something jumped into my brain, I had to do or say something about it right then and there. And this impulse has been the bane of my existence my entire life.


Somewhere along the way, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of shame all of the time. My personality did a 180, and I went from extrovert to extremely shy, anxious, and wary of all people. Most disturbing of all, I became quiet.

I even learned how to feign listening when, in reality, I was completely checked out. I remember the urge to hit myself in head to pay attention. Why can’t I just focus?! Needless to say, I did not perform well in school and, at home, my parents worked tirelessly with me on homework with very little reward.

I also began to believe at this age that I was inherently inadequate, stupid, lazy, ugly, rude, and that everything about me was just…wrong. Everyone in my life reinforced this whenever I could not easily adjust to new situations or information.

By now, you have probably guessed my real (and painfully obvious) diagnosis. Hint: it’s not depression.


Why Women Are Left Behind

It’s no secret that ADHD can manifest as other disorders, such as depression and OCD, in an effort to control the original problem. However, women are disproportionately affected by this misdiagnoses.

I am no longer surprised when someone I’ve just told my diagnosis to responds with, “I think ADHD is overdiagnosed,” or “I think ADHD is made up.”

If you’re one of these people, keep in mind that the criteria has evolved substantially since the 80s, and we are just now recognizing the gap in previous studies that built this criteria.

For instance, over 99% of studies conducted on ADHD have centered exclusively around boys/men exhibiting hyperactivity, which means the number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed women is still grossly underrepresented, and the consequences of this are deadly.

Another reason why women are able to “hide” ADHD for so long is that we are not permitted the same behavioral freedoms as boys and men. In other words, we are working twice as hard to fit ourselves into societal roles and norms. Women, especially, are held accountable when they fail at emotional labor, organization, caretaking, housework, let alone balancing these things with a full-time job.


Whether we want to admit it or not, we write these behaviors off in boys, or we get them treated immediately. Girls, on the other hand, are shamed into masking symptoms.


Thus, changing their physical appearance, and performing restrictive behaviors that cause them to distrust their own bodies, language, and autonomy from the time they are born. This results in self-loathing, depression, OCD, anxiety, and more.

This exercise of control over women in public and private spaces is so normalized that it’s invisible. And this sort of medical erasure happens to women all of the time and not just for psychological issues. Women, and women of color in particular, with legitimate medical concerns are often patronized, ignored, and misdiagnosed by doctors.

I am reminded of the fact that both my male cousin and I had the same behavioral issues and learning difficulties in school. I was told to control myself; he was sent to a psychiatrist and given tools to deal with his disorder.


Revelations

In 2016, Quartz published an article addressing just this:


“ADHD materializes dramatically differently in girls. ‘Anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD,’ 2012 research shows…


“Unlike boys, many of whom show hyperactivity, girls’ symptoms veer more toward inattentiveness and disorganization. Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to society’s expectation that they be on the ball and organized.

And while some ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after they pass through puberty, for many girls, it gets worse [1].”

I had just been diagnosed for the first time at 24 years old when I read another life-changing article by Broadly called: “‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD” [2], which left me feeling a mix of things, mainly that I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t alone. And, for the first time in my life, I felt understood and validated in my experience.

At that time, I had already completed half of my graduate degree in Colorado with a year-and-a-half left to go. Between grad school, a 100-year flood 3 months into living there, my boyfriend at the time moving back to Kansas, and my own cross-country move, life had taken a huge toll.

I’d never felt more alone.

This feeling progressed until I became scared enough to seek professional help. Every 2-3 years my ptsd (from Hurricane Katrina) was triggered like this. Major upheavals, lack of control over my environment and relationships, worrying about my grades—it all brought up too much. Inevitably, my entire life and mental health status imploded shortly thereafter without fail.

This cycle was normal for me from ages 15-24 and even expected.

Imagine my surprise when, after many sessions, my new psychiatrist in CO told me that I wasn’t depressed. I remember my mouth falling open. What do you mean I’m not depressed?!

He became more and more convinced that the root cause of my depression was a direct result of undiagnosed ADHD. As he went through several points with me using examples from my childhood and these bouts of depression, the direct link between my sense of self worth and my ability to complete things/lack of organization suddenly clicked. Holy hell!

Not once in all of my years of therapy had a medical professional suggested this to me.

Most of the advice I’d received up until then required a lot of that pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps blend of self-help. But I couldn’t fix that aspect of my life. That was, well…me.

So here I was at 24 years old finally putting the pieces together. And with that, I felt the beginning of many painful years unravelling.


The “Miracle”

My diagnosis was, in fact, the beginning of untangling a thick web of self-hatred I’d buried myself in for so long.

I’ll never forget the therapist who performed the test saying, “It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far,” in reference to graduate school.


The truth is, it isn’t a miracle. Not in the slightest. There is no such thing for people with ADHD. The only “miracle” here is that I did not give up.


The first year I applied to graduate programs, I didn’t receive a single acceptance letter. Yes, I was an above average writer, and I was passionate about it; but that could not account for years of poor grades, a disorganized portfolio, and an abysmal GRE score.

While my friends were off starting their programs the next year, I was working at a refinery to save money and busting my ass on those applications for the second time. I remember crying a lot at the application and testing fees, during the math portion of the GRE, at the overwhelming feeling that I was doing all of this for nothing, and at the realization that I’m not the only one who has to do this and omg why am I crying?

Even though my portfolio was amazing and my letters of recommendation were from well-established poets the second time around, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. And until I was finally diagnosed and treated, I had imposter syndrome throughout all of my classes and interactions at school.

It didn’t matter that I was 1 of the 12 chosen out of 400 applicants or that I was 1 of the 5 admitted for poetry. It didn’t matter if someone solicited me for poems or was moved by my work. Or that the students that dropped were first-time applicants who couldn’t handle the workload. I can state these facts all day long and still feel insecure, although less so now.

The truth is that therapy and medication cannot completely erase years of psychological damage, but it can help. And, because of those things, it is easier than ever before to not give up or break down at the slightest obstacle like I would have in the past.

I wish that more women had access to this knowledge because it can improve your quality of life exponentially. I have much more control over my impulses and emotions, or rather, they have stabilized. Tasks are easier to prioritize and don’t overwhelm me as often. I can see the big picture of my projects and my position and am less prone to quit on impulse or self-sabotage.

Basically, my life is 80% more manageable than before, and I have some great doctors to thank for that.

There are still people who tell me my disorder isn’t real or overdiagnosed, and people who let it mar their view of my capability and performance. Then there are people who see it as a window into you.


My Thoughts on Living with Diagnosed ADHD

Personally, I believe ADHD is behind all of my creative and professional success.

If you follow my blog for writing tips and some of what I’ve said sounds a little too familiar, take refuge in knowing that ADHD has been an asset more than anything else in this area of my life.


Whether we are capable of recognizing it or not, those of us with the disorder have a unique set of tools the average person does not have access to.


That puts our perspective and our possibilities at the cutting edge of creative writing. Scores of famous writers, artists, actors, and creatives in various professions, including entrepreneurs and CEOs, have learned to embrace this disorder and use it to their benefit.

Despite many of the negatives that come with ADHD, this endless, unstoppable creativity is something to be thankful for at the end of the day.

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

You may or may not be familiar with erasure poetry, but it’s essentially exactly what it sounds like. Taking pre-existing work, you mark out chunks of text to create a new poem. This process can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing writer’s block.

Ruefle-Mary-page1Mary Ruefle has a famous 42-page-erasure poem called A Little White Shadow that she created from Emily Malone Morgan’s Brown & Gross (1889). I believe I read an interview somewhere in which Ruefle claimed one of the main reasons she chose this text is because there are no copyright issues from a text this ancient. So bear that in mind before you spend too much time on this.

A former professor of mine, Ruth Ellen Kocher, took a different approach to erasure in her book domina Un/blued. While in Rome, she wrote tons of poems and later went back and erasured her own work. The results are absolutely breathtaking.

Many poets erasure their own work in the editing process without thinking of it as such. And many poets have difficulty letting words go. But this process is all about whittling down to the most precise language. You’d be surprised what can come out of that.

Rules:

  • take a text you’ve either written or a text that you love and mark out chunks to create your own poem

Here’s my attempt:

Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So:

Taken By Frost

a yellow traveller
bent in the undergrowth
and wanted
that morning
I kept knowing
I should never come back

 

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

In five lines (no more, no less) incorporate:

  • the word “sliced”
  • the color “chartreuse”
  • something only you know about your mother
  • your favorite author

Here’s my attempt:

A Chain of Fish Hooks 

Chartreuse is just another way of saying yellow. Tawny and lime.

The way my mother likes to turn inside out quietly in the kitchen.

Neruda said, Eating alone is a disappointment. But not eating is

hollow and green. And that is how family feels. Like a verdant hole

or an animal’s sliced heart.  Careless breaking of something wild.

How to Be a Tourist in Your Own City in 6 Steps

Whether you’re feeling a little stagnant or just want to try something new, it’s never too late to discover untapped facets of your city.

 

1. Swallow your pride

In a place like New Orleans (my city), it’s hard not to get defensive when a tourist shows us something we didn’t already know about. Down here, we really pride ourselves on our ability to recommend the best restaurants, bars and music spots. But, if you really want to learn something new about where you live, you have to let that pride go. Live with the curiosity of an explorer, and don’t shut people down just because they’re not from your city. They just may offer you something life-changing.

 

2. Take a tour

I used to roll my eyes at the tourists who went on alligator tours, but it’s hard to deny how amazing this experience is once you’ve seen a 12-foot alligator jump six feet in the air and snatch a chunk of raw chicken out of a man’s hand.

I thought I knew everything about the Treme until I took a Segway tour.  While I knew all of the facts our docent listed off, I’d never gone “off-roading” in Louis Armstrong Park before.  And it was one of the most fun experiences of my life, mostly because of the Segway.  Learning how to ride that thing was hard at first, but it was such a unique way to see my city.

 

3. Change your route

I always notice new murals, restaurants, and popups when I take different routes.  Yes, the same routes are comfortable, and probably have less congestion, but when you’re not in a hurry, change it up!  You’ll be amazed at what you find.

 

4. Revisit your favorite childhood spots

You went to the zoo and aquarium a million times as a kid, right?  Surely, it hasn’t changed that much? Think again. How old are you now? Believe it or not, you’re all grown up now and the zoo probably isn’t what you remember. More importantly, returning to these places can fill us with a sense of child-like wonder and leave us inspired for weeks.

 

5. Rent a hotel or bed & breakfast

Our mood can improve just by getting away from regular routines and environments. Find a place in your favorite part of town or an area you don’t know very well. While you’re there, go to an unfamiliar restaurant. Unplug from technology and responsibility over the weekend.

 

6. Find solace in nature

Nothing makes me feel happier than being on the water – it’s like coming home. The second I feel that salty breeze through my hair, the stress of the work week just melts away. But you don’t have to go on the water to find your happy place or discover a different side to your city. Try exploring local hiking trails and state parks in your area. For me, that means heading into the swamp and hurtling alligators!

Watching Hurricane Harvey from New Orleans

For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary.  Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.

Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?

The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.

Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.

I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.

It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.

I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.

Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that.  If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.

My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.

The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.

It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.

Self-Acceptance vs. Happiness

So many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something we can never achieve.  If I just do blank, I can love myself. If I lose weight. If I get that promotion. If. If. If.

There is a belief in Taoism that the only way we can find inner peace is by accepting ourselves the way that we are now. And that prospect feels impossible to many of us.

After hitting a rough patch a few years ago, I started going to Temple once a week. Counter to The Secret’s law-of-attraction concept popularized in self-help lit, here, I was taught to accept my thoughts – and therefore, myself – for the very first time, rather than trying to manipulate every feeling into something positive. The results were astounding.

After a few meditation sessions/sermons, I realized that every time I manipulated my thoughts, and inevitably failed, I felt worse for the failure, creating an endless cycle of negativity. I do believe that the ability to convert negative thoughts into optimism is useful to a point. But when you do not accept a situation or your feelings, you are merely patching a dam with a bandaid.

What I’m trying to say is that if you find it difficult to steer your thoughts into the light – it’s okay. No one is perfect, and the sooner you realize you are good the way that you are, the sooner you will find inner peace.

When you accept and view your thoughts, rather than push them away, you begin to realize you have set conditions for self-love and self-acceptance, which is futile because everyone and everything are in a continuous state of fluctuation. In a literal sense, each decade or so, every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. You will never be the same person you were yesterday or the day before that and so on.

Not to be confused with happiness, inner peace is a constant state of self-acceptance that equips you to handle most unforeseeable situations. Inner peace is not dependent on circumstance, while happiness is a fleeting moment of joy that is impossible to maintain. Through the foundation of inner peace, happiness is easier to experience and maintain but never sustainable. After all, how can we experience joy unless we also experience sadness, anger or misfortune?

Don’t beat yourself up over negative thoughts. Accept them and take your power back one day at a time.

10 Stunning Books of Poetry Set in Louisiana

As fun as Mardi Gras is, Louisiana has much more to offer in terms of entertainment.  

Louisiana has been home to many celebrated authors, such as Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, John Kennedy Toole, and Truman Capote. But there are some lesser-known authors and works that capture unique facets of this mystical state, which is marked by an incredible resilience, breathtaking swampscapes, and a long list of past traumas from the slave trade to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina.

Here are 10 stunning books of poetry set in Louisiana(ish):

1. Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith (Coffee House Press, 2008)

dazzler

While Smith isn’t a Nola native, Blood Dazzler remains one of the best poetry collections on Hurricane Katrina to date. With quiet fury and expertly crafted tension, Blood Dazzler takes the reader through the utter terror of wading and waiting through the storm. The cadence of the language and stunning imagery will blow you away too.

“Scraping toward the first of you, hungering for wood, walls, unturned skin. With shifting and frantic mouth, I loudly loved the slow bones

of elders, fools, and willows.”

 

2. Missing the Moon by Bin Ramke (Omnidawn, 2014)

moon

A few years ago, I reviewed Missing the Moon for The Volta blog. There was a point in time where both Ramke and I lived in Denver. I approached him after a reading one night when his poetry struck me as familiar. “Are you Cajun, too?” I asked. “Yes, how did you know?” he said, and we proceeded to chat for the next few hours about our shared history.

Missing the Moon perfectly captures the insidious encroachment of Americanization that nearly destroyed Cajun culture after the Red Scare.  Forced into the swamps, Ramke shows us how Cajuns belong on neither land nor water, speak neither French nor English, instead, remain displaced between worlds.

“I translate myself into myself—
sane phrases, words and words
Returning into Sabine Bay we would
stare forward into a horizon the dark
smear of cypress and palmetto not
yet arisen to separate sky from water
the shape of the boat a word…”

 

3. Book of Southern and Water by Emmalea Russo (Poor Claudia, 2013)

russo

I stumbled upon this treasure when I was really homesick. In the midst of a 3-year masters program in Boulder, CO, over 1,300 miles away from LA, everything around me made me feel dislocated. The climate and culture could not be more different.

Reading this felt like coming home. Like being wrapped in humidity and warm rivers. Russo captures the Louisiana landscape the way one photographs someone they love.

“this is the bottom                                  this is the bottom

the bottom of the country                   moist crowded

something like safe inside

the time it takes for skin to dry…”

 

4. Smoked Mullet Cornbread Crawdad Memory by Rain C. Goméz (Mongrel Empire Press, 2012)

mullet

When I first saw the name of this book, I thought: A) Could you repeat that? And B) A redneck definitely wrote this. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Goméz, a Ph.D. working within TransIndigeniety and Diaspora in Literary and Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Creative Writing, is a self-identified, Louisiana Creole mestiza with a stunning perspective. These prose poems illustrate a unique and underrepresented intersection of  Louisiana. Plus, the book took home the Native Writers Circle of the Americas’ 2009 First Book Award in Poetry.

“The layers of my skin are made
From story and memory.
I am fashioned from the experience
Of mothers,
Of fathers.
I move in constant awareness that
This act of being was not easily won. “

 

5. Slab by Selah Saterstrom (Coffee House Press, 2015)

slab

Originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast (and the MS/LA border), Saterstrom was deeply affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While post-Katrina Louisiana is often used as a backdrop for dystopian works, this collection of experimental, political, playlike, prose poems is undeniably one of a kind. Slab is a meditation on disaster. In it, we follow Tiger, a southern woman turned stripper. The decay left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina she must overcome represents the lingering post-Civil War deterioration of these Gulf states and serves as a call to action. Bottom in education, healthcare, infrastructure, crime, and overall quality-of-life, Slab refuses to romanticize or hide our wreckage.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 10.55.15 AM

 

6. Boy with Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis (Pitt Poetry Series, 2015)

thorn

“It’s the experience of being from a place and then, suddenly, that place being caused to changed—radically, quickly—such that in some ways it’ll never be what you remember it as again. So I want to say, like the military child, I’m at work to get back to this remembered home that, in some way, doesn’t anymore exist.”—Rickey Laurentiis

“Rickey Laurentiis’ debut poetry collection, Boy with Thorn, arrives at a crucial time in American literary discourse, engaging the oppressive and harmful legacies of our nation with clarity and intelligent critique. Laurentiis’ collection as a whole is honest in recognition of a life lived through violence. The reader must praise the landscapes in this collection, in the midst of its terror and destruction, for also producing Laurentiis’ lyric beauty and wisdom. His relentless recognition of personal truths and reclamation of narratives formerly silenced is an example of poetry at its highest form.” Yael Massen, MICROREVIEW: RICKEY LAURENTIIS’S BOY WITH THORN, Indiana Review.

 

7. One Big Self by C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)

onebig

Louisiana is the prison capital of the world. “Compare Louisiana’s rate of 816 people per 100,000 with Russia’s 492, China with 119, France with 100, and Germany with 78…Louisiana has long been much more severe in sending black people to prison than whites, at least after black people were no longer slaves…Angola Penitentiary remains the largest maximum security prison in the United States. There are over 5000 prisoners at Angola alone. The average sentence for prisoners there is 93 years. About 95 percent of people serving time at Angola will die there under current laws.”—Bill Quigley, Louisiana Number 1 in Incarceration, Huffington Post.

After C.D. Wright, a renowned poet from Arkansas’ Ozarks, was invited by photographer, Deborah Luster, to Angola Prison, she felt moved to write One Big Self. Part prison portraits, part poetry, “the discrepancies between the photographer, writer, viewer, and inmate are multiple, blaring” (Wright).  Many of these haunting images resemble Civil War-era, tintype, portraits of slaves. The message is clear, and the evidence—hard to deny.

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8. The New Testament by Jerricho Brown (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)

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Dripping with biblical nomenclature and gospel-like lyricism, The New Testament is an incredible, original collection of poetry. It is almost impossible to separate Brown, a self-identified gay man of color and Shreveport native, from the book’s narrator, which perhaps is the point. The text is imbued with intimacy, exile, ambivalence, struggle, and passion. Like Lucifer, the narrator is cast out of heaven, yet he finds small ways of coping, replacing the omnipotent “He” with a lover. “In the best moments, Brown weaves together strains of religious invocation with his uneasy identity as a southern, gay, black man into a beguiling self-myth.”—Craig Morgan Teicher, A Collection Of Poems That Offers An Unlikely Kind Of Hope, NPR

Psalm 150
Some folks fool themselves into believing,
But I know what I know once, at the height
Of hopeless touching, my man and I hold
Our breaths, certain we can stop time or maybe
Eliminate it from our lives, which are shorter
Since we learned to make love for each other
Rather than doing it to each other. As for praise
And worship, I prefer the latter. Only memory
Makes us kneel, silent and still. Hear me?
Thunder scares. Lightning lets us see. Then,
Heads covered, we wait for rain. Dear Lord,
Let me watch for his arrival and hang my head
And shake it like a man who’s lost and lived.
Something keeps trying, but I’m not killed yet.

 

9. You Good Thing by Dara Wier (Wave Books, 2013)

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This collection doesn’t explicitly mention Louisiana or Katrina, but it is implied by the abundance water imagery and wild chaos of the text. Wier is originally from New Orleans. “Many of Weir’s stanzas draw a reader away from a recognizable world into one in which women waltz with bears, houseflies chat with colonels, and the absence of sound makes a material presence.”—Harvard Review

“You took the boat onto flattened waters./ White wall of blue morning fog to slip into./ You withstood what is was that was wailing you through./ There you were standing on nothing, looking down at two/ Blackfeathered slashes your two hands held on to.”

 

10. Flood by J. Bruce Fuller (Swan Scythe Press, 2013)

Flood“Written by current Stegner Fellow J. Bruce Fuller, Flood is the kind of read that sticks with you, like the lingering floodwaters of a rain storm, like the water lines you can see when they recede. The book is split into two parts “1927” and “2005,” each indicating a different year when water altered the landscape and lives of the people of Louisiana. Fuller reaches into his family and personal history to tell stories of what is lost when waters rise, but also what one learns from experiences like this, such as in “The River Is In Us”: “Each of us is planted / in the earth for a time / when the river inside us / mouths open to the sea.”—Kimberly Ann Southwick, 3 Chapbook Reviews: Loving and Living in Louisiana, Ploughshares

And if she is angry
her belly constricted
by our levees
she will erupt
silt like ash

 

 


Is It Okay to Read Trash?

Most of us don’t start out reading Nietzsche, Kafka, or Joyce and with good reason—it isn’t fun! 

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with trashy romance novels (also, Harry Potter). My trashy tastes have since moved on to paranormal teen romance, which is weird because I essentially went from being a historical-adult-romance-reading teen to a paranormal-teen-romance-reading adult (funny how that works sometimes).

Now I don’t mean to put classic writers like Joyce down; after all, he gave us this gem: “The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea” (Ulysses). And he was one of the biggest literary pioneers of the 20th century, along with fellow modernists Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Kafka, and Lorca.

Yes, arduous reads are absolutely worth the effort. After all, these are the texts that transform you from ‘just proficient’ to master. These are the texts that make you reach and pull and grow intellectually. I don’t think anyone would bother to argue against their value. Yet, plenty of people like to police reading habits if they happen to include garbage books.

This is something I would never have admitted to my classmates in grad school, but I don’t think I would have ended up with an MFA had I not taken an interest in salacious lady-porn-trash in the 5th grade. That was the catalyst for my love affair with reading. Despite this knowledge, I found myself asking this question during and after grad school quite a bit:

Is it okay to read unchallenging, garbage simply for entertainment value?

Fuck yes it is, and here’s why:

1. Challenging reads never go away. 

Academic track or not, you will have to read taxing things you don’t care about for the rest of your life. It’s just a part of our existence, so you might as well enjoy what you read in your free time.

2. It will keep you inspired. 

All of us avid readers/writers got here somehow, right? Maybe it was trashy romance or some cheesy, predictable mystery series. Whatever it is, I believe deep-down that everyone loves to read, and I’ve found successful ways of getting adamant, self-proclaimed non-readers to love it. It’s just a matter of finding something you connect with. There’s a reason 46% of romance readers read 1 book per week compared to the 5 books a year the typical American reads.

3. You will discover what sells. 

I will never forget this life-changing advice a professor handed down in graduate school: Don’t be too high-brow to find out what sells. Part of his success as a famous novelist is attributed to reading best-sellers. As a writer, it will benefit you to have a grasp of what readers and publishers alike want. And if you happen to enjoy the “research,” so be it.

4. It provides you with sweet, sweet relief. 

There are tons of psychological benefits to reading what you like. Stress relief is at the top of the list. Other benefits include natural memory loss prevention, increased empathy, sleep aid, improved writing skill, plus it’s a cost-effective form of entertainment compared to movies and certain outdoor activities.

5. You learn from it. 

Even trash has an editor. If you want to ingrain grammar, spelling, and new vocabulary into your brain, keep reading that trash. You’ll also pick up naturally on the formula of the genre you like, which will make it easier for you to plan and write your novel.

6. It helps you escape reality.

“There is no frigate like a book.”—Emily Dickenson

Escaping reality might sound a lot like running away from your problems, but it’s the exact opposite. How many of us have turned to reading and writing after trauma? Your parents’ divorce, a family member’s death, surviving a natural disaster, undergoing physical or emotional abuse—even the necessary act of growing up is traumatic to some extent. Reading helps us look outside of ourselves and process these emotions and experiences. It lets us travel through space and time when we’re destitute. It keeps us from feeling alone, even if we are.

7. It empowers us. 

All sorts of sexist tropes exist in trashy romance novels, and yet tons of women feel empowered by them. In Anne Browning Walker’s contribution to the Huffington Post blog, Why Smart Women Read Romance Novels, she says:

“Our society feels threatened by women having sex. Romance novels present the opposite view. Authors use sex scenes to present a healthy activity shared by two consenting adults who (in the end, if not at the moment) fall in love with each other. Heroines are sexually satisfied during each encounter. There’s a safe space to explore your fantasies and figure out what turns you on. Nothing dumb about that.”

This also goes for sci-fi novels with people of color protagonists, YA novels starring gay teens, and books like Crazy Rich Asians—one of the few novels straying from tokenism and asian stereotypes with western success. It’s kind of like Gossip Girl, but these kids put Serrena Vanderwoodsen’s and Chuck Bass’ fortunes to shame. The cool thing though, is that the book allows a large cast of asian characters to be vapid, hot-mess pieces of shit, which is pretty absent from mainstream media in the US. It also begs the question: Why are these types of works really considered trash in the first place? 

8. “Good” is subjective. 

What qualifies a book as “good”—or “bad” for that matter? You can check out the Goodreads and Amazon reviews or hit up the NYT bestsellers list to see what a whole bunch of people you’ve never met think. Perhaps, you should go with the literary canon pounded into you most of your life by people who’ve also had the literary cannon pounded into them?

Few acknowlege the gaping issues in the literary canon as well as the Modernist Movement I discussed earlier, which excluded black writers of the New Negro Movement (Harlem Rennaissance) at the time and appropriated West African art without citation because white writers considered this art “primitive.” (Yet they thought it was good enough to steal, lmao.) Yikes.

The point though is that it lacks inclusivity. When you can’t relate to a book, or you know your particular demographic is subjugated or excluded entirely, it makes it that much harder to enjoy. Make things simple and think for yourself. Just because your professor thinks it’s “good,” doesn’t mean they’re looking at the big picture.

9. Haters gonna hate. 

fabio
You knew this was coming.

If you’re in graduate school or a literary community, those in your coterie will try to shame you for reading trash. The high-brow, art school mentality is an unwitting tool of colonialism that ultimately limits the hater. But I digress. Don’t let other people decide what you should like because it will make you fucking miserable.

Let’s be real for a second though. Carrying trash around is embarrassing in these spaces. Can you imagine walking into an MFA student lounge with Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey in your hand? Or any space for that matter? Hell no! You might as well tape a “make fun of me” sign on your back.

Still, you like what you like so if you want to avoid embarrassment, do what I do—cover that shit up with a false book cover from a more revered title that no one will want to talk about. E-books are probably the safest option, but personally, I need to hold a book in my hands.

10. It’s fun!

There is no greater joy in life than reading a book you can’t put down. So engrossing you carry it with you around the house, the office, or wherever you go “just in case.” Or you dream about going home all day to be with it. So good you lock yourself in a closet with a flashlight so you can soak it all in without interruption. This kind of reading isn’t a fun acticity so much as an addiction—and it’s a high worth chasing to the very last drop.

 


hexhall

 

Q: What are you reading?

A: Currently, I’m on Book 2 of the Hex Hall series, which follows Sophie Mercer, a teen witch in her first year of boarding school. Only it’s not your average school.

Hecate Hall, or Hex Hall (as it’s been renamed by students), is full of magical beings. Sophie isn’t sure how she feels about sharing space with werewolves, fairies, shifters, and vampires—but she doesn’t have much of a choice.

Aside from being banished to Hex Hall for the rest of high school after accidently revealing herself to humans, Sophie’s situation becomes more unpromising when young witches begin turning up dead. And there are no leads as to who the killer might be.

What’s your favorite trash? Comment below to tell me what you’re reading!