one month without internet

Starting tomorrow, I’m saying goodbye to the internet for the entire month of August. I took a one week internet detox two summers ago with great results — there’s something about unplugging that lets me refocus on the present and slow down. My plan is to only check e-mail for one hour each Sunday (unfortunately in this day and age I don’t think you can really abandon your e-mail for 30 days straight), and log on only to post book reviews and submit grad school work. (It helps tremendously that I’m off work this month.)

For the record, I seriously adore the internet. But I’m the kind of internet lover who regularly can fall into any Google-induced k-hole, from vintage sunglasses on Etsy, to four different Buzzfeed articles in a row, to ogling all of Baggu’s products, to photoshopped pics of celebrities as real people on Tumblr, to old Ace of Base videos on Youtube, to real estate listings upstate. If you give me a blank browser, I immediately type in “fa,” and wait for the beloved social network to pop up. I’m just curious what I’ll feel like if I disengage. I might not be as super-hero productive as I’d like to be, but at least I won’t be watching baby goat videos* instead of editing a grad school manuscript. Or so the logic goes.

Here are 15 things I’m looking forward to during my internet detox:

1. Reading more of the New York Times in my hands than in small snips on a screen.

2. Finally making good on the brunch/coffee/lunch/beach plans I’ve made with friends all summer long.

3. Challenging myself to reading one book a week.

4. Renting movies from a movie store instead of streaming like six hours of Pretty Little Liars (although I may end up just renting Pretty Little Liars…don’t hate!)

5. Pinning things I like/things I wanna remember to the wall above my desk instead of Pintrest.

6. Library books!

7. Weaning myself from the habit of checking my iPhone literally every five minutes.

8. Making a dent in the stack of lit mags next to my desk.

9. Attempting to turn what would be 140 character witty remarks on current events into full paragraphs or essays.

10. Drawing.

11. Perusing the racks at some vintage store instead of hunting through four different internet tabs for something.

12. Being present. I know, this is a vague sentiment, but the one thing I best remember from my internet detox two summers ago is how present I felt in everyday conversations. I wasn’t reaching for my e-mail or thinking about tweeting or wondering if so-and-so liked my post on Facebook. I was actually present.

13. Maybe finally getting to a yoga class after talking about it for, like, 3 years.

14. Reading in bed instead of reading all of my Twitter/Facebook feeds on my iPhone.

15. More time outside. Less time online. I’m hoping the extra sun can be stored in my brain until winter.

…wish me luck, everyone! If I break my fast, you’ll be the first to know.

* those baby goats are pretty awesome

[photo from Blue Bicycle Books]

you’re wondering if I’m lonely: thoughts on what it means to lose Adrienne Rich

When I was twenty four, I had a crush on an older woman who was a writer, and late in August in the summer of our courtship, she wrote an email to me which simply said, “I just found out that Grace Paley died and all I want to do today is cry for her.”

I was young and sadly unversed in Grace Paley and her importance. Her name at the time was on my desk, scrawled on a post it note of authors I kept hearing about but never seeking. Mostly, though, I was surprised and a little envious that the death of a writer could move this woman to tears. Did we have permission to feel such grief? That evening I went to St. Mark’s Bookshop found a copy of The Collected Stories of Grace Paley on the shelves. I was wearing shorts and a small white tank top and was that day carrying a typewriter with me. I sat on the typewriter case, hunched in the far corner of the bookstore, and read as much Grace Paley as I could. It was not a summer that I could afford books which weren’t from the library, but I stood anyway and bought the book and read it the entire train way home. Nothing really happened between the older woman and me, but I had Grace Paley, and I was grateful.


On Monday of this week I went to Housing Works for a party for Sugar, who is really Cheryl Strayed, who has just published her memoir Wild, which is about a young woman finding herself on a three month hike along the Pacific Coast Trail. At the party, a parade of writers stood up and read Sugar’s writing from the heartbreakingly honest and lovingly constructed advice column she pens for The Rumpus. I glowed, hearing aloud the familiar words, the words that struck deep inside of me: “Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else,” and “Do it so righteously that we can’t help but look,” and “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.” Sometimes when I lift my nose from the grindstone, there are those beautiful examples of why we get up on any given day of the week and make the choice to work, to write, to create, to find ourselves.


Tuesday night I started reading Wild , lying in my bed, which is positioned in my tiny bedroom beside a jam packed bookshelf. Tucked in the back of Wild is a list of the books Strayed burned while on the PCT; every book she brought with her was burned or traded, except for one: Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language.

I own two Adrienne Rich books, and because something had recently possessed me to alphabetized my haphazard shelves, found that they were only an arm’s length away from where I laid in bed. One was The Fact of a Doorframe. The other was a slim used copy of The Dream of a Common Language, which I had once purchased from the Strand, part of a plan to slowly buy piles of books of poetry for two friends’ wedding gift. I never purchased more than three books and later forgot my plan, but I apparently I did own this same book that Cheryl Strayed found valuable enough to carry for three months in the wilderness and never burn. Pulling the two books from the shelves, I took them to bed with me.


I can tell you exactly where and when I purchased The Fact of a Doorframe: I was twenty-three and suffering, and it was fall becoming winter, and it was the now gone Coliseum Books on 42nd Street. That day I purchased The Fact of a Doorframe and also Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “Good choice,” the cashier said, and I blushed, of an age and an emotional state where I was grateful to be acknowledged by anyone in the world. The Fact of a Doorframe I knew to purchase because the woman I was sleeping with at the time had a beloved copy. She was really a friend of mine, and the sleeping together was just a dangerous accident. She was a friend I talked about poetry with all of the time. The night we met I tried to drunkenly recite an entire Kenneth Koch poem for her. And I may not be remembering it right, but perhaps I knew the title The Fact of a Doorframe because she and her ex-girlfriend each had a copy when they had moved in together, and it was delightful, to have two copies of such a great volume, snug together on the shelf.

I could spend hours reading poetry. I would gorge myself on it for days, sampling from one book, and then another, cross referencing them, reading poems out loud to myself over and over. At the time I lived alone in Harlem, and would memorize poems, or write them on pieces of loose leaf and tack them to the walls. My first year in New York I had a college professor who told us with confidence, “Poetry saves lives.” I never had reason to doubt him.

Adrienne Rich: I fell in love with her immediately, immediately. I loved Song, and The Burning of Paper Instead of Children, and Delta, and Twenty-One Love Poems, and Dialogue. And, oh, what it did to a young queer heart to read lines that so awesomely showed women in love! I read those lines again, and again, and again. She was so much: justice and cities and literature and history and religion and lesbian and society and femaleness and outsider and ally and poet and radical and mother and lover.

Ideal Landscape I wrote out by hand and taped to the wall above my desk. Not long after this, the dark brace that barely held my life together broke fully, and I sought change. I stopped drinking, and asked for help, and was trying to unfurl myself from the self-inflicted bondage of my many mistakes. Poetry made this possible, an essential cornerstone in the foundation I was building, beginning in that apartment in Harlem, when I was young. The Fact of a Doorframe never left my bedside.


I only left that Harlem apartment because I was mugged, one hot June evening, in a sundress, in the hallway of my building. The after effect of fear was immense, but the relief that I had not been hurt was even greater. Still, I moved to Brooklyn, closer to friends, a new beginning. Six months later, a man lifted a gun to my head in the shadow of a brownstone and said, plainly, Give me everything. I did. The fear multiplied, anger erupted from depths I had not realized I possessed. Was this a message to leave New York, the city beloved? Was this what it meant to be a young woman in the world? I can only say this: that I would never leave, and that everything, everything that I experienced I could find in the poetry of Adrienne Rich. I picked up her books and found them beautiful, new.


And so, years later, I am here, on a Tuesday night: The Fact of a Doorframe was the same, with dog-eared pages, stanzas boxed with rough pencil, and my own handwriting filling up the end papers, the blank space. Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed, me thumbing through the pages, running my mouth over her words. Gratitude was not enough to contain what I felt for Adrienne Rich.

Tonight, I was in the city, having dinner with friends at a cafe on St. Marks Place. As is the habit of every modern New Yorker, as we waited for the check I looked at my phone, my e-mail, my Facebook. Someone I knew had posted Song, one of the very poems I’d been reading the night before: you’re wondering if I’m lonely, it began. And then I saw: they were all posting her poems. Adrienne Rich had died.

I was instantly reminded of what had been written to me the August I was twenty-four, and I understood: yes, yes we have the permission to grieve. Of course we do. I thought to myself, I found out today that Adrienne Rich died, and all I want to do today is cry for her. Even at a table with friends I felt suddenly bereft in the news. Gone! There was an embarrassing pang of loneliness in me, a yearning for someone to come home to, someone who would share this, another witness. I wanted to sit on a bed and read her poems aloud to another person for the rest of the evening. Writing itself was at its core an action of isolation, and I did not want to go home to it. I wanted more. This was my process for loss.

I am sure at this very moment there are people who are better articulating than I could Adrienne Rich: her immense power and influence, grace and talent. All I can say is that I am sad. Her’s is a poetry that at many moments in my life has, indeed, saved me. It is a blessing that when we lose beautiful poets we do not also lose their poetry. Hold tight to it. Read it aloud to someone. Hand copy her words and put them in your home. In the foreward to The Fact of a Doorframe, Adrienne Rich writes, “A poem may be written in a moment but it does its work in time.” Tonight I am humbled by time, and I am greatly humbled by poetry, and I am forever indebted to Adrienne Rich.


Origins and History of Consciousness


Night-life. Letters, journals, bourbon
sloshed in the glass. Poems crucified on the wall,
dissected, their bird-wings severed
like trophies. No one lives in this room
without living through some kind of crisis.

No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
the true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.

Thinking of lovers, their blind faith, their
experienced crucifixions,
my envy is not simple. I have dreamed of going to bed
as walking into clear water ringed by a snowy wood
white as cold sheets, thinking, I’ll freeze in there.
My bare feet are numbed already by the snow
but the water
is mild, I sink and float
like a warm amphibious animal
that has broken the net, has run
through fields of snow leaving no print;
this water washes off the scent—
You are clear now
of the hunter, the trapper
the wardens of the mind—

yet the warm animal dreams on
of another animal
swimming under the snow-flecked surface of the pool,
and wakes, and sleeps again.

No one sleeps in this room without
the dream of a common language.


It was simple to meet you, simple to take your eyes
into mine, saying: these are eyes I have known
from the first…. It was simple to touch you
against the hacked background, the grain of what we
had been, the choices, years…. It was even simple
to take each other’s lives in our hands, as bodies.

What is not simple: to wake from drowning
from where the ocean beat inside us like an afterbirth
into this common, acute particularity
these two selves who walked half a lifetime untouching—
to wake to something deceptively simple: a glass
sweated with dew, a ring of the telephone, a scream
of someone beaten up far down in the street
causing each of us to listen to her own inward scream

knowing the mind of the mugger and the mugged
as any woman must who stands to survive this city,
this century, this life…
each of us having loved the flesh in its clenched or loosened beauty
better than trees or music (yet loving those too
as if they were flesh—and they are—but the flesh
of beings unfathomed as yet in our roughly literal life).


It’s simple to wake from sleep with a stranger,
dress, go out, drink coffee,
enter a life again. It isn’t simple
to wake from sleep into the neighborhood
of one neither strange nor familiar
whom we have chosen to trust. Trusting, untrusting,
we lowered ourselves into this, let ourselves
downward hand over hand as on a rope that quivered
over the unsearched… We did this. Conceived
of each other, conceived each other in a darkness
which I remember as drenched in light.
I want to call this, life.

But I can’t call it life until we start to move
beyond this secret circle of fire
where our bodies are giant shadows flung on a wall
where the night becomes our inner darkness, and sleeps
like a dumb beast, head on her paws, in the corner.

joy without shame

This week Wilde Boys hosted their first woman poet, Marie Howe, at this intimate salon for queer poets and writers. Crowded into the stylish living room, I ended up sitting on the carpet, nearly at Marie’s feet. The entire evening was breath-taking: a rare venue for creative conversation. She was both electric and generous. At one point, Marie asked the room of mostly young poets: what are your taboos? What is taboo? Sincerity, someone said. Being positive, said another (the one who spoke it meant HIV positive; Marie and many others leaped on the idea that the positive within itself is a current taboo). “My students,” Marie said, “in my writing classes, they all talk about how they’re afraid to be sentimental.” Would it be too much to appear sentimental? She asked: What if we wrote visionary poems that imagined a better world? What if every poet in this room wrote a poem of joy, joy without shame? I’ve been carrying these words around ever since. I’m no stranger to writing the heartbreak, the divorce, the mistakes, the judgement–but what if? What would happen in a world that reflected joy without shame?

[Photo by Alex Dimitrov, creator of Wilde Boys]

something else

We were studying abroad in Madrid and cowered when the sound came, in a classroom, much like some of us had been years before. We asked, what’s that? And the professor, an older gentleman, said, what do you mean? They are planes. And we said, yes, yes, but the sound of planes so close to a city, to us, it means something else.

We were freshmen when it happened.

We went from the television, to the skyline, to the television, and back. What was real? We could not call it home yet; if you asked us to recite our addresses, our phone numbers, we would probably still name streets in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Illinois. We still depended upon maps.

Before, we had drunk cans of Coors Light in someone’s square of a dorm room, then kissed drunkenly in the bed with the lights out while our friends slept in a pile on the floor. Some of us could not stand the sound of the kissing and left, in the middle of the night, stopping only to sign out with the security guard at the front desk. That is how young we were: we had identification, we signed clipboards when we arrived and went. We couldn’t go anywhere without one. Sometimes, coming home from the Lower East Side at four am, we would flash our MetroCard thinking it was our ID, or dump our purses upon the linoleum, searching for the purple card. The security guards had seen it all before.

We ate in the dining hall. We carried trays. We were wearing the clothes we had worn in high school, hoping that here it would mean something new. We liked Modest Mouse, and the new Bjork album, and everyone was reading The Hours. We wore headphones wherever we went. The night before, we ate hot pizza from our trays, we talked about poetry slams and how much we wanted to go to the MoMA; we kissed goodbye on 14th Street, nervously, and turning to walk home, there they were. When we saw them, we knew—in our newness, our drunkenness, our youth—when we were walking south.

Some of us remember hearing the sound and some of us do not. Some of us had the intuition to call our grandmothers—she would be home, we didn’t have to try to find our parents at work, or a cell phone number buried deep in an address book, who had cell phones yet? And we heard they did not work, that nothing was beginning to work—we called our grandmothers and said, we are okay. We are calling to say that we are okay.

Our roommates had a television. We sat crowded on the lower bunk and watched. Some of us wondered aloud how it could still be standing, and then there were screams from the open window. And moments later, the screams came from the television. There was a thirty-second delay.

We had known each other twelve days.

We went to give blood. The RA took us. The streets were already deserted. We walked in the blinding sunlight to Beth Israel, where there was a line around the block, all New Yorkers, all looking to give blood. A nurse went down the line shouting rules: no new tattoos, no new piercings. Some of us two days earlier had gotten our tongues pierced; our eyebrows, our noses. We had made a list of things we wanted to do, in this heyday before responsibilities, this thing they called orientation. Our list said: Central Park, find bicycles, eat falafel, get pierced. Now we left the line and walked back. Soon, there would not be a line, because it would become apparent that there was no need for that much blood. There was no need. On Broadway, a car sped past, a lone car on Broadway. In the backseat, we saw something like a body, feet sticking out of an open window. But maybe it wasn’t a body. But maybe we didn’t see it.

We instant messaged with a friend in Israel, a friend in Israel who listened in sympathy as we talked about what it was like to wake up to terror, and then she typed, “I know exactly how you feel. It happens here all the time.”

No one slept. Sirens went on, which we thought we were getting used to, but not like this. Some of us had sent e-mails. Some of us cried, and photographs were taken. Some of us talked about getting beer. We picked up our trays in the dining hall. We were still wearing our clothes from high school. The older classmen had been evacuated from their dorms below Canal Street. They came to stay with us.

One boy was taking his young cousin to Pennsylvania. His cousin’s apartment was blocks from where it had happened. He poked his head into my room the morning after and asked if I wanted to come. I said No. And then I ran after him, down the hall, and said, wait, yes, yes. We got his cousin from a hotel and were on one of the last trains out of Penn Station before a bomb threat closed it down. His cousin was eight. We carried duffel bags packed with the things we had just packed to come here. We had to sit in the aisles. We colored pictures. We were taking his cousin to Pennsylvania so she could enroll in school and live there temporarily, because we did not know what was happening. We did not know if there would be an end.

We were encouraged to seek counseling. We were told, repeatedly, about post traumatic stress disorder, and the address of the mental health clinic. We were rumored to be treated so delicately that this was not really college, that they were with us not being rigorous, and it would never be the same. We went to protests, and memorials, and vigils, and marches, and rallies. We went to class. We went to bars. We carried fake IDs and fell in love, wrote constantly and learned to like the bitter taste of espresso. Some of us never would. Some of us learned to walk by the photos taped to lampposts, and some of us had to look at every one. Once, drunk, we were trying to go to a bar on Rector Street, and when we walked up from the subway, it was November, the lights were glaring white, and we stopped, grabbing on to each others’ wrists, and arms, and hearts. We were in front of it, the gaping hole.

We ran home.

We were going to call New York home.

We did not talk about it; we talked about it with abandon. Some of us stood in school yards with the children we tutored the morning of the first anniversary, a hand over our hearts; some of us began a slow pull towards classes in policy and activism, international law. Some of us joined anti-war committees. Some of us talked to our parents every night. Some of us joked. Some of us still thought about the bodies, all of the bodies. Some of us transferred. Some of us forgot.

We graduated. We separated. We stayed, or we went, or we kept in touch on Facebook. The names sounded familiar, but ultimately we did not know. Those who stayed, we learned to live with it. Everyone had a story, everyone, but if people talked about where they were, and it was not New York, and it was not DC, and it was not a field in Pennsylvania, we secretly thought in our hearts, sometimes, you do not know. You do not know.

Ten years went by and we were baffled, or we were thankful. We had apartments in other boroughs, and salaries, student loans, friends from graduate school, pets. We were not yet thirty, still. We were not going to talk about it; we couldn’t stop talking about it. We saw students populating Union Square, and we looked at them—small, carefully dressed, zip codes they had not yet forgotten—and we thought, God, we were that young? They are that young. We did not ever want to appear sentimental, or ungrateful, or affected in the least. Some of us lived in Germany. Some of us sent money to the Red Cross. Some of us wanted to have children. Some of us thought about it every time we had to put our toothpaste and 3 ounce shampoos in a Ziploc bag. Some of us wished we had gone upstate for the weekend. Some of us believed in God now. Some of us worked at a nursery school not far from where it happened, and knew that when it had, they hid in a classroom with no windows until a voice on the radio told them it was safe to leave. The lights cut through the muggy sky and even if we lived in Crown Heights, or a loft condo in Williamsburg, or Spanish Harlem, or Long Island City with our husband and one dog, we could see them. It was eerie. Sometimes we thought we could hear it, even if we had not heard it before.

toot toot

From The School Library Journal:

Truth And Dare, edited by Liz Miles (Running Press Kids)

Gr 10 Up—Like the game for which this anthology is named, these stories are exciting, a little risky, racy, and very revealing. Miles has assembled a collection by well-known names in teen fiction, such as Cecil Castellucci, Ellen Wittlinger, and Gary Soto, as well as some voices new to the field. Most selections contain some element of romance or attraction. In Sarah Rees Brennan’s “The Young Stalker’s Handbook,” a teen follows a cute boy around a mall until she is forced to speak to him after an embarrassing event. Sara Wilkinson’s “Pencils” is an odd story in which a young man finds the sight of his seven perfectly sharpened pencils just as compelling as the large (possibly uneven) breasts of his tormentor. Some selections are simply about the choices people make, such as Shelley Stoehr’s “Somebody’s Daughter,” in which the actions of three friends at a party have disastrous consequences for one of the girls. Among the most creative of the stories is Emma Donoghue’s “Team Men,” a reimagining of the biblical story of David and Jonathan set against the backdrop of boys’ soccer. But the most compelling stories are the ones in which the narrator questions what he or she knows, such A. M. Homes’s “Yours Truly,” in which a young woman feverishly writes words of self-examination in a linen closet, or Courtney Gillette’s “Never Have I Ever,” in which a teenage girl must choose between her beloved boyfriend or the girls to whom she’s always been attracted. The tales range from humorous to heartbreaking to ridiculous to empowering, and most readers will be able to find at least one story that speaks specifically to them.—Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO

YA Saves

This weekend my Twitter feed, which is a hodgepodge of writerly folks, bloggers, queer and indie movers and shakers, blew up with the hashtag #YAsaves. The outpouring came in response to a deft article the Wall Street Journal published, titled “Darkness Too Visible,” which shamed the sometimes gruesome and serious subjects of YA fiction as not right for young readers:

If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.

The article includes recommended YA books that will challenge readers without being too dark, but these lists are categorized by gender (groan). Anyone who writes Young Adult, reads Young Adult, champions Young Adult, or, especially, survived their own adolescence because of a few brave and frank books, will likely take issue with this morose portrait of YA literature. There’s a limited and incredibly judgemental perspective shared here, and it dismisses the tons of important, daring, confident and valuable books that have been written and published for YA over the last several years.

In my own experiences, I know that when I was a teenager there were a lot of adult things going on around me, and within me, that I didn’t have vocabulary for. I wanted stories I could measure my own judgements of the world so far against. I wanted validation. I wanted hope. I wanted perspective. I found these things in YA novels, and while I took great pains to draw a thick line between adults and teenagers (“Being a teenager is so awful that adults must forget about it as soon as their old enough, and then in turn have no reference for how terrible being a teenager can be,” I once wrote in an English paper in the 11th grade), I was relieved to read these books about teenagers I admired, by adults who seemed to be able to honor how tough this period of life could be.

One of the best responses I’ve seen to the WSJ piece is Malinda Lo’s blog post on the matter, where she points out that as a YA author, she’s not writing lessons for teenagers to take away, she’s writing books.

The idea that morals are required is the thing I hate the most about YA. It’s the thing that makes writers of “adult fiction” look down on YA: the idea that YA’s only purpose is to teach a lesson, not to tell a damn good story. I think this idea is pretty much the most harmful idea out there about YA — not that it’s too dark or too full of “aesthetic coarseness” (Gurdon’s words). Because the idea that YA is primarily about lessons strips it of the possibility of being art, and therefore of being taken seriously. It turns it into moral pablum.

Beyond darkness, appropriateness, adult content or other controversies, Lo is pointing out the thing that I think often makes Young Adult the super beloved genre that it is: damn good stories. Here’s to hoping that nothing keeps these damn good stories from our shelves.

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