Honk honk: 2016 wrap up edition

On the whole, 2016 was a shit year with a few bright spots. Here are some of those bright spots, specifically related to writing (though I’ll write another post about all the wonderfully bright people I had the pleasure of spending time with in 2016).

  • Permafrost, a fine literary journal that published my short story “The Time I Listened to Nothing But Warren Zevon for One Year Straight,” also nominated that story for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. This is my first Pushcart nomination, and to say I am honored is an understatement. This nomination has been a huge encouragement to me and my writing, especially at a time when everything was starting to feel pointless. Thank you, Permafrost!
  • I have been writing blog posts for The Rumpus for about a year and a half now, and recently began a new blog column called This Week in Books, where I highlight a recently published book from a small or independent press. I love writing about books (what? you already knew that?!), and love indie presses, so this is a perfect fit for me. I am so grateful to The Rumpus Managing Editor Marisa Siegel for giving me this opportunity.
  • October 2016 marked the one year anniversary of becoming the lead editor for Eleventh Stack, the blog for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where I work. (Again it’s that writing about books thing…) I’m so very proud of the work all the Eleventh Stack bloggers have done over the past year, from beta-testing the library’s new website to writing phenomenal content about everything from Beyoncè to beach reads. Leading this blog is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, and has been a phenomenal learning experience for me as an editor and writer. Hats off to LA for trusting me with this project, and always being quick with advice and wisdom.

What good things came out of your 2016?

If Donald Trump Grabbed My Pussy: A Poem

donald trump campaign flyer about how he would defeat ISIS

Donald Trump thinks I would let him grab my pussy
because he is a “star”
because he has money
because he has gotten away with this kind of abuse before.

He would be wrong.

If you think that my political views make me weak
or out of touch with reality,
Let me assure you:

I know the threat of sexual violence against me,
against all women,
Is real. Ever-present. Insidious.

But there are defenses that don’t require brute strength
Or testosterone.

If Donald Trump grabbed my pussy,

I could grab his wrist and twist it upwards.
The pain—a shock that shoots up your entire arm—
can turn a human being, even a famous rich white man,
secure in his immunity and his privilege,
into a crying, sniveling fool.

Or I could bring my heel down on his toes,
then my knee up to his groin
and my elbow down on the back of his neck
as he doubled over, involuntarily, from the agony—
His human frailty laid bare.

Or I could jab his eyes with my fingers,
rigid and sharp against soft jelly
then grab his hair and pull down
until I can kick him in the face.

Tell me, Donald Trump—
What good will all that money be,
all that fame,
when you’re on the ground,
groaning and dripping blood from your nose?

I’m not afraid of you.
If you fuck with me, I will not back down.
You cannot buy my silence, my complacency,
the right to my body.

Anyone can learn a basic wrist lock
or how to cock her hips like a gun,
throw her fist straight like a bullet.
Sisters, friends—I can show you.

I am not Wonder Woman.
I, too, feel pain.
I can’t stop knives, or fly, or even run for very long.
I can’t force men to tell the truth.
But I am not afraid to stand my ground,
and I am not alone.

We are many.
We are furious.
We demand nothing short of revolution.
We have power and strength—
even if men like Donald Trump
want us to think we have neither.

Raise your fists, sisters, friends
and bring them down hard.

My dogs are not my children

Lately I’ve been thinking about metaphors. Specifically metaphors like, “My pets are my children,” or “My writing is my baby.”

I can understand, almost, why people use these metaphors. Having children is a monumental step that reorders your entire life. Your world basically revolves around your children, because they need you to survive. Plus, they carry your genetic code and are, in a very real sense, a part of you.

Saying, “My pets are my children” is, I think, mostly an attempt to say, “My pets are as important to me as your children are to you.”

puppies

Lexi and Jaina. They leave fur everywhere, but I love them anyway.

But I don’t see my dogs (or my writing) as “children,” and several things about comparing them to children bothers me.

It’s an easy metaphor, one that most people can understand, but it implies that important things like pets, art, etc., are intrinsically not as important or worthy as children of time and attention, and that pets are simply replacements for human children.

Plenty of parents also have pets. You rarely hear them say “My pets are my babies!” And yet, I’d be willing to wager those pets play an equally important, albeit very different, role in family life.

Growing up, that was my experience. We had a dog, a German shepherd/border collie mix, who was my constant companion. We played together, went for walks together, even sat on the couch and watched TV together. We all loved him immensely, and he was, without a doubt, a part of our family.

But my parents never referred to Maverick as one of their “children.” My brother and I were the children, and Maverick was the dog.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling a dog a dog. That’s what they are. Their dog-ness is why we love them. If dogs were strictly replacement children for people unable or unwilling to have children, you’d probably see a lot fewer human children with doggy companions.

Dogs make excellent companions because of their emotional intelligence and their ability to read body language and smell pain and illness. Children are naturally intuitive, but I’ve never met a human who could read another person as well as a dog can.

Dogs often know what we’re feeling physically and emotionally before we have any idea ourselves—and this is partly why many dogs bond so easily with children, I think. There’s no need for the child to verbalize her emotions, because the dog just knows, and is there with a nuzzling wet nose or a long drippy tongue to the face.

Even now that my brother and I are grown and my parents have turned into crazy German shepherd people (they have four), they do not make comparisons between their actual human children and their dogs. My mother doesn’t ignore me because she has her furry children to keep her company.

It’s essentially the same with writing. My writing is not my baby, it’s my writing. It may be work in the same sense that raising children is work, but it is very, very different work. Yes, it’s hugely important to me, but if I ever got struck by lightning and suddenly decided I wanted children, I’m guessing the human babies would be an entirely different kind of important.

Ultimately, my point is that dogs play a large and important role in my life, and so does creating art. Neither my dogs nor my writing is a replacement for not having children. They are rewarding in their own rights, and fill very different emotional and mental needs than children do (I imagine, as I don’t actually feel any desire to have children).

My dogs are not my children. They are my dogs, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.