Things I Do To Stay Sane: Push Myself

Last week, I did something crazy: I tried out for a musical. Now, I haven’t been in a musical since I graduated college three years ago (split-role of Narrator from Joesph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). Before that, I hadn’t really been active in theatre since I was taking classes at the Academy of Theatre Arts in middle school. I love theatre, but circumstances in high school had discouraged me from pursuing it, so I had essentially let that dream die in the water.

Recently, however, I had been showing my fiance the things about theatre I had learned. The things I loved about theatre. He suggested that I should start doing them again. I had laughed at him: who would take me seriously? I might still be able to sing, but I hadn’t done acting classes since I was twelve.

Fast forward to last week. A local  theatre announced that it was holding open auditions for American Idiot. I haven’t ever seen the musical, but I love the CD and I liked the general story. Even better, they were considering females for one of the traditionally male leads. At first, I simply dreamed about what it would feel like to go to the auditions. And then I mentioned it to my mum, off-handedly. She suggested that I go for it. My fiance started picking out songs.

So I thought “What the heck?” and went for it. I chose ‘Disenchanted’ by My Chemical Romance as my audition song, and practiced it with a YouTube video of a piano accompaniment until I literally almost lost my voice (thank you, Throat Coat!). And, heart hammering in my chest, I went to the auditions Friday night. I tried out with four other girls- sang my song, danced a wicked cool dance combination, and then went home.

I woke up the next morning the to e-mail: I had been invited to callbacks, being considered for the traditionally male lead. I’d proven myself wrong- they’d taken me seriously. I had a full day to prepare for the callbacks and take this shot at getting myself back into theatre.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending. Come callbacks that Sunday, I ended up losing my place in the duet song and botched it horribly (my own reason for why I feel I deserved to get cut earlier on in the callbacks, there are a million of other reasons that I might have missed). Casting went out, and there was no role for me. I was disappointed in myself for messing up and ruining my own chances for going further. I ended up in an almost three-day funk because I had been so close to that dream again, and again was not good enough.

But the thing about this whole episode that keeps me sane, that makes me a better person and writer, isn’t the whether or not I got into the musical. It was the lesson that I needed to take myself seriously to have other people do the same. It was the lesson that I can still do things spontaneously. That I was good enough for a second look just as I am. Maybe if I worked at it more, who knows? I could try out again. Maybe get into the next one. Or maybe I take this lesson with me when I try to contact book stores for readings, or English classes for guest-lessons. Maybe I allow it to be just another one of those experiences that make up the vast library of experiences that I can put into my writing, both poetry and fiction. Maybe I take away the fact that I had an entire horde of people willing to support me, believe in me and back me up no matter what the outcome of the auditions.

New experiences don’t have to have one goal in mind for them to be considered good for us. We don’t have to complete things the way we wanted to. We don’t have to win for them to become another part that brings us to a more complete whole. That audition has become a part of who I am now, and propels me forward with what I’ll do tomorrow. What kind of decisions I’ll make. What kind of risks I’ll take.

So go for the new experiences. Even if you feel ridiculous. Even if you feel like people won’t take you seriously, or that you aren’t good enough to come in first place or do the experience ‘right’.

What new things have you been wanting to experience lately? What has been holding you back?

Things I Do To Stay Sane: Learn Cooking

So, lately the significant other and I have been trying this new thing where every weekend I go to his place and we learn to cook something new. Because neither of us really know how to do things slowly, that’s actually translated into us making at least two new things every weekend, which makes for a very busy and very messy kitchen.

And I’m loving it! (This coming from someone who normally hates mess and has a bit of a problem with doing ‘new’ things of any sort). I come from a very steak-and-potatoes family. We were never that into spices, never did much deviation with recipes, and maybe ate from a full menu of around twenty items. I’m mainly to blame for that, considering the tantrums I’d throw if my Mum so much as hinted at making me try new foods. Monkey, on the other hand, comes from a rather large family that likes cooking all kinds of stuff, cooking all the time, and using spices that I’ve never even heard the name of before getting into this relationship.

It’s been quite the learning experience, having two people with wildly different tastes in food and different ideologies about cooking trying to create new dishes together. To date, we’ve made mulled wine, Irish apple cake, fried potato chips, french fries, Sheperd’s Pie, bacon and potato cakes, and red velvet pancakes. Doing so, we’ve cut down on the amount of money we’ve spent each weekend going out for food, I’ve been losing weight while still eating delicious food, and we’ve increased the amount of time that we spend genuinely talking to each other and learning about each other’s likes and dislikes.

Food, for me, has always been this kind of inconvenience. I don’t feel hungry often at all, but I need to eat or else I’ll pass out. It has enabled me to gain nearly thirty/forty pounds of trauma weight. It makes me sick on occasion if I eat something slightly wrong, or at the wrong time, or with the wrong things, since my insides are stupid sensitive. So this whole phenomenon of cooking food, trying new foods and enjoying the process, is new.

Part of that is Monkey. I enjoy being with him, I enjoy being around him and I am amazed by how much he can surprise me in the littlest ways two and a half years into this relationship. I could probably watch paint dry with him and still be amused somehow. (Don’t take that as an idea, love, it’s an exaggeration).

Part of that is the fact that I’m learning more about myself in this process too. I’d always kind of stuck to my old favorite foods the way that I stick to my routines. They are safe, I know they won’t bother me or trigger my disgust and stress me out. But in the past couple years of pushing the boundaries of what I can know about myself, both through research and through contemplative prayer, I am learning what new things I can broaden my horizons with. New foods may seem like a small thing to the average reader, but for me, it’s a big deal. I’m able to more correctly discern what kind of foods are less likely to be the wrong texture, or hurt my sensitive insides: Instead of walling myself off from new experiences, I am able to safely and comfortably branch out, one little step at a time.

Which, as a writer, I think is one of the most beneficial things about learning to cook with Monkey. Any opportunity that I get to learn more about myself, is an opportunity for me to better understand how I can best contribute to the world around me, whether that’s with my art, with how I should be focusing my observations, or in how I behave in everyday life. And doing it through the process of cooking and learning to cook, helps me to learn about myself while still progressing forward. While therapy and self-care ‘treating yourself’ is all well and good, a lot of times I believe it can lead to stagnation. Cooking new things helps me build up my skill set, helps me find new ways to show my care for others, or treat myself with healthier foods, and helps me learn how best to compliment my own taste with my significant other’s.

What opportunities have you taken lately to learn yourself in less-than-conventional ways?

Thing I Do To Stay Sane: Remember To Take Myself Seriously

If you asked me what the hardest thing about being a writer is, my answer would be simple: taking myself seriously. No matter how much I’ve published or accomplished, I have almost always had a problem with seeing myself as a ‘real’ writer. In fact, I often feel the same now with a collection and two novels to my name that I did before I submitted my first poems to my high school lit mag. There’s always that lingering feeling that someday I’ll be a poet or an author, and that someday is always just around the corner.

So when would I consider myself ‘real’? When I’ve won more awards? When I’ve done a residency? When I publish more collections; a full series of installments? By judging my authenticity on goals alone I’ve set myself up for a slippery slope that leads to never truly accepting myself for what I dream of being.

This doesn’t just kill my personal motivation (why submit today when j can do it later, when I’m a real writer?). I end up slacking on my own deadlines and going weeks without submitting or updating my sites. I put off creating poem graphics or participating on writing sites because I feel insecure. I sell myself short when I talk to even the closest of my family and friends, afraid that I’ll lose face if I can’t present as a ‘real’ writer.

The only cure comes from taking myself seriously. Now, as I am in this moment and with what little I have accomplished. I am a real writer because I write, not because of how much I’ve published or how much I plan to publish. It is worth telling people about; worth sharing. It is real work, and I am allowed to be proud (within reason) of my efforts. I have no obligation to downplay or hide my accomplishments.

And it takes work. This past year I’ve done a poor job of taking myself seriously and at times that has made me run the risk of completely sabotaging my own dreams. Nothing got done, I barley submitted new work once every couple of months and my production of new work slowed to one or two poems here and there. I picked up the pen plenty- but I didn’t take myself seriously enough to follow through with any of my ideas. Those could wait for a ‘real’ writer, I kept telling myself.

This year I wish to dedicate myself to my work, to take it as seriously as I would my relationships, my health and my education. I will make deadlines, set schedules and refuse to compromise as I would with any other part of my life. I will imbue my work with purpose and fight harder against neglect and complacency. I will allow myself a healthy amount of pride in finished work, and push past the insecurities that keep me from believing that my work is too amateur yet to share. 2015 is going to be my year of redefinition and rededication as a writer. I’m excited to see where that will take me!

In what ways have you failed to take yourself seriously in the past year, and what could you do to fix that in 2015?

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Get Out of the House

But Amber, getting out of the house is super fun, that wouldn’t take too much work would it?

If I was a more outgoing person and naturally enjoyed being out my room, sure. I’ve always been that person who could be locked up in her own room for pretty much ever and be perfectly content to do nothing but write, sleep, and maybe play some video games. I do have to force myself to text my friends most of the time- not because I don’t love them, I truly do, but because I am perfectly content being alone (as long as I can be productive).

Regardless, I am a firm believer in the idea that ‘alone’ was not the way that life was meant to be experienced. If it was, God would have made me and only me. (I may not agree with His sense of humor, giving me no desire to be with other people and yet putting me in a situation that begs me to be with other people, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.) Being as I am just one individual in this cosmic whole, it is my responsibility to connect myself to the whole, to immerse myself in the community.

Sometimes, I enjoy it. Nights when I go dancing at the Rose with my friends, or get to go to a small house party or new movie. I don’t regret leaving the house, and I feel good about it. Other times, I hate it so much I taste acid. These are the nights when we go out to sketchy bars or to a crowded party where I only know one or two people (and often there is pot around, which I really, really don’t like the smell of) or dragged to some celebration where I know there are people there who don’t like me or we had a falling out or there’s no set plan for the evening or people invite me to hang out only to zonk out in front of the television and completely ignore the fact that I’m there…. you get my drift. With my autism, I often lean towards anxiety about these sort of things- I weigh the numerous bad experiences against the ‘few’ good experiences and nearly talk myself out of leaving my safe, cozy room. Just thinking about all the ways that ‘going out’ could go very wrong, I freeze up.

What keeps me going out, time after time, is this simple realization: I would be a horrible writer if I stayed locked up in this room. I’d become one of those self-absorbed, self-righteous writers that I hated in high school, loathed in college, and still like to pretend don’t exist today. For me, a lot of writing (especially with poetry) is about taking your life experiences and condensing them into a kind of pure image for others. Those readers in turn adopt those images into their own plethora of experiences and, if the experiences together are rich enough, there occurs a broadening, brightening and deepening of one’s understanding of the human experience as a whole. I would consider this to be one of God’s greatest gifts to His creation: little collaborative glimpses into the grace of eternity.

That’s what I want to be a part of. I don’t much care for the party scene, for drinking or for being seen. But if I can see just a little bit more of the world, if I can learn a new nuance of humanity, I’m going to muscle through it.  I don’t ever know if the experience of getting out of the house will rejuvenate me, or just drain every strand of emotional energy that I have left. It’s always a toss up. But I have decided that in either case,  getting out, giving in to the cosmic mess that is being with other people, is worth the pain just as much as it is worth the potential grace.

What do you do to ‘get out of the house’?

Things I Do To Stay Sane: Re-reading

In June, I will be moving back home to Highlands Ranch from Denver, where I have been living for the past four years. It’s kind of weird to realize just how accustomed I’ve grown to living in the city, even when before then I had lived in Highlands Ranch with my family all my life. Over Easter weekend, I already started moving some of my surplus stuff back into my old room, organizing and putting the stuff I won’t need until I move out again into boxes and down into the basement storage.

Part of this included finding a ton of my old books. Most of them will go straight into storage, because I either read them recently enough, or remember them well enough to know whether or not I want to keep them forever. While consolidating the boxes of books, however, I found a good shelf’s worth of books that I needed to take out so I could re-read them (or in some cases of books that had been given to me by an old university minister, read for the first time). A handful of these books are novels that I don’t particularly remember, and need to re-read to even get a handle on them. Most of them are old religious books. Some of them are reflective, some of them are ‘how-to’ books (how to date, how to behave, how to handle yourself), and very few of them are the type of theology tomes that I’ve been poring over on my time in college. I remember these books fairly well and I remember enjoying them in high school- but will I enjoy them now? Now that I’ve been exposed to feminist theology, liberation theology, and the changing emphasis in today’s Church? Will the things I learned from these books about how to relate between genders (at a time when science is beginning to understand gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary), to relate to myself, to relate to my community; will they be things that I will want to teach my own children someday, knowing what I know now? What I will want to pass on to future generations of faithful, if I end up achieving my dream of being a youth minister? So far, in the couple I’ve already re-read over my break, the thankful answer is yes. (Turns out I had impeccable taste as a teen, lol).

This exercise in re-reading began with a desire to organize. To cut away the unnecessary bulk in my storage, to separate the chaff from the wheat, so to speak. What I’m finding, however, is that re-reading isn’t just something that can be done for fun. It’s something that should be regularly done throughout one’s life journey. Even with the books I end up still agreeing with, I find that I am now better equipped to speak of nuance. Different things speak to me. I can connect what used to be abstract themes to concrete concepts in my field of study. In my own life experience. It’s teaching me a lot about myself- seeing the things I ear-marked or highlighted then, and seeing what sticks out to me now. Re-reading is a good way in which to take inventory of your own life. What genres were you in to ten years ago that you wouldn’t touch now? What kind of characters did you enjoy then that you write ranty blogs about on the weekend today? What relationships in narratives bothered you in high school that you now understand because you’ve been through that? What began as an exercise in organization has become an exercise of re-discovery and understanding.

So how about you, reader? What book do you think you should give a re-read soon?

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Go Dancing

Thursday nights, where will you find me? All of my friends know- the Grizzly Rose in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been line-dancing there since I was still in middle school and had to go on Sunday nights with all the other under-aged kids. Back then, I only really went whenever a big group of my friends were going (and when my mom was free to chaperone, of course). Once I got into college, it became a way for me to connect to some of the new people at my school. Going to Regis meant that I was one of the only native in my friend group- the other people I knew came from out of state, or from cities more than several hours away. I was able to show them around to the local hookah bars, dance clubs, and eventually even the Grizzly Rose. My friends quickly became attached to the place and to the style of dancing- with line-dancing, you don’t need to have a partner to let loose and have a good time, but there still remains that possibility of two-stepping with a cute cowboy if you’re in the mood. 

As an autistic adult, I live by my routines. In a whirlwind of new friends, new classes and new experiences, dancing became my go-to rock. I could always rely on at least one of my friends being willing to go out and get down. It doesn’t seem like the best of places for me to have latched on to- I am usually not a fan of loud noises, and I absolutely hate when people I don’t know touch me. Dance halls of any time tend to have plenty of those two things going on- but it was the one thing that I knew I could rely on. So I forced myself to see it in a new light. 

A friend and I at the Rose's Halloween celebration in 2012. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Rose Facebook.

A friend and I at the Rose’s Halloween celebration in 2012. Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Rose Facebook.

The music when I go dancing is loud enough for me to ignore everything else around me. I lose myself in music I wouldn’t normally listening to if I wasn’t line-dancing, and focus entirely on the different repetitive steps of the dance.  I focus on the faces of my friends (many of whom are friends because we see each other every single week, I don’t see them any other time!) and I melt into the experience of having a great time. I take pride in being able to do all the dances well and have an even better time when I am able to start dances, conforming a little bit of everyone elses’ routine to mine. 

Dancing once a week is a wonderful exercise, both for my mind and my body. I get to work out (mostly my calves and thighs, if we’re being honest) by having fun. I get to sweat out the stress of the week and feel good about myself through the skill I’ve acquired through dancing for so many years, and by feeling attractive and wanted (even just my friends wanting to be next to me) in a public space. It’s a time of the week that I’ve carved out for myself that is wholly dedicated to self-care in a way that works best with my own neurotype, my own weaknesses, and plays to my own strengths without sacrificing the precious little time that I have to spend with my friends and be with a community. 

There are plenty of ways to put a little bit of ‘me’ time into your week without the need to carve too much ‘alone’ time as well. My mantra of multitasking smarter, not harder, applies to this as well. By making a time of the week that is both ‘me’ and ‘we’ time, I get to spend more time with the people who mean the most to me without sacrificing my own mental health. It’s hard being a young professional, having to balance enough work to survive on with enough me time to wind down in as well as maintaining healthy, lasting relationships. For me, dancing together helps balance some of that out, bringing benefits to all involved. 

Which, if I’m healthy in my personal life, I’m much more likely and willing to apply more of my energy to my work- to my writing, to my networking, to my day jobs. Keeping oneself healthy in mind, body and soul is one of the best things you can do to further your own career and life goals. 

Readers: what things do you do every week to lower your stress levels? What new things would you like to try to fit a little ‘me’ time in your ‘we’ time? 

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Go Thrift Shopping

Something that I’ve gotten slightly addicted to in the past couple of years is thrift shopping. No, it did not start with Macklemore (thank goodness). I had actually really disliked thrifting when I was younger- my mother would always ask if I would want to come along, and I would always say no (she now makes fun of me for this). I thought that thrift stores had nothing that I wanted, that they were for old people, that the clothes would all be out of style and the other items just plain outdated.

In college, I went thrifting to help my friends build up pieces for their costumes in the school musical (which at the time was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). While they were off looking for their go-go outfits and sparkly headbands, I wandered off and used my time actually looking around. I ended up finding three dresses, several cowgirl-esque button ups for my weekly dance nights at the Grizzly Rose, and a couple of sweaters. Most of the items were also half off the already ridiculously low ticket prices, which means I bought all of those items for less than one blouse at a department store. As a poor college kid, you can imagine how much this appealed to me. I was already a huge fan of shopping at places like TJMaxx and Kohls, but this whole ‘thrifting’ thing let me go one step further with saving money.


Thrifting soon became my go-to shopping experience. Instead of hanging out at malls, like I had done in high school, I started finding all of the thrift stores that I could- comparing their inventories, seeing what new things were in that week. Soon enough I was dragging my boyfriend with me, where he too picked up an appreciation for thrifting (he likes the cheap electronics and the fact that he can get outfits I like without spending too much money on them!)

It’s only recently that I recognized the potential for my thrifting outside of getting cheap clothing. On a thrifting outing that was more focused on finding my boyfriend a DVD recorder, I decided for once not to look at the clothing, and instead look through the DVD and book sections that I so often skipped over. Turns out, the Arc stores that I so dearly love (and favor very highly over other thrift stores) have expansive book sections- even having a neat little section for poetry and classics. Since this was a 50% off Saturday, most of these books were even cheaper than normal- though they were in perfectly good condition. I ended up with a collection of Pablo Neruda’s love poems, which I have always been meaning to reading, three or four poetry anthologies (one 365-poem collection, one around-the-world collection, one with love poems by women, another with love poems to God from different traditions), a large, beautiful copy of Robert Frost’s complete poems, and a small collection written by a woman who lives here locally (I ended up liking her poetry so much that I sat down on my kitchen floor with that collection and read it straight through without stopping). I also picked up a couple of novels that I’ve been meaning to read, such as The Jane Austen Book Club and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and religious items like a collection of thoughts and prayers by Mother Theresa and Between Heaven and Mirth. All of these books for the price of one!

Now I really believe in supporting authors and artists through purchasing full-priced copies, preferably from independent bookstores when I can. However, as a fledgling writer currently working two jobs as a nanny just to pay rent and help buy a car for my little brother, I don’t often have much ‘book money’ to spare anymore. Thrifting for books is a great way to keep up your book collection and your love of reading when times are tougher (and they are books that you know you’d want to keep- otherwise, local libraries are the best resource for ‘trying out’ books before you buy them).

It’s also, surprisingly enough, a good way to get cheap local lit (if you look for it hard enough, and come on a lucky day- as it is with most thrifting). I know that might seem a bit like a cop-out with supporting local authors- but I know that at least in my own experience I’m much more likely to try something if it’s got less risks, aka less costs. One way that I’ve done this in the past is enter copious amounts of Goodreads giveaways, looking for independent artists to win review copies from. Now I can go thrifting and look for local artist’s work, try it out, leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads, and then see if there’s anything else they have out for sale! It makes supporting local authors a little more risk-free, and works for everyone all around.

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Learn a New Language

Growing up, I always liked the process of learning new languages. I took French, Spanish, and minimal Swahili (before my missions trip to Kenya back in 2010) when I was in high-school, and in college I took a year-long course in beginners Latin (which is dominantly translation-based rather than speaking-oriented). The differences in words, how sentences are created, what sounds are associated with what, how entire cultures form around simple re-structuring of grammar and social associations through what ‘older’ words are combined to describe new experiences has always fascinated me.

I can by no means speak, or translate, fluently in any of these languages. I can speak haltingly in French and Spanish, and usually only remember the words when I’m not in need of it. Most of it would only be helpful in greeting people, introducing myself, and asking for the bathroom in any case.

Seeing as I am now out of school for the first time, however, I find that my brain is going to need me to give it more stimulation than I normally would on ‘break’. I’m writing, that’s true, and I’m working, which is a different kind of brain work- but if I’m not learning something new in a strong structure I have this fear that I’m going to lose more of my cognitive control, that I will stagnate in my creativity, and that I will come up against a road-block in my writing that I will not be able to overcome. These are not ungrounded fears, either. It happens every winter break, when I take most of my time to ‘relax’. I find that, without pushing myself to learn, I have little motivation, and even less inspiration, in order to write or to be productive in any meaningful way.


So, for my graduation, I was given the Irish Gaelic Rosetta Stone. So far I’m on the second unit of the first level, core lesson three. At this point it’s mostly numbers and introductions and colors, but already the difference in just how the language sounds has been keeping me up and going, writing wise. I chose Irish because it was so radically different from the languages I had already ‘learned’, and so was the most intriguing  As a woman of Irish heritage, I also thought it might be fun to be able to tap in to my own roots with it. Furthermore, me, Monkey and my little brother will be learning the language together in order to help me in social situations with both my autism and my triggers. By the end of the year I may not be fluent in Irish Gaelic, but I will hopefully have learned enough to be able to tell my brother and boyfriend when ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I don’t like/trust this person’, ‘I want to go home’, or ‘I’m feeling just fine. I’m just tired’, without feeling the anxiety that comes with other people, strangers or not-close-enough acquaintances knowing that there is something ‘wrong’ with me- and they can tell me ‘Be a little quieter’, ‘Be careful’, ‘You’re being rude’, ‘That person is happy/sad/angry’ (for when I can’t read expressions) or ‘This person is coming’ without having to feel socially awkward about saying it out-loud with other people understanding them. So my end goal for learning this language is, I suppose, all encompassing- I want to be able to use it to better myself, and my experience of the world, both personally and professionally. I’m going the Rosetta Stone route because I learn better in solitary settings where the method is immersion, rather than translating or note-taking. I think the way in which one learns a language can effect one’s reception of it, and that if you want to learn a language for whatever reason you should do so in the way that best connects to your own personal way of learning, so that it can benefit you the most in the long run.

So here’s a question for my followers: If you were to learn a new language, what language would it be, and why? Would you do language software, or a class?



Things I Do to Stay Sane: Read Poetry (Lots of It)

     One of the things I’ve been most surprised by, as I enter in to the world of professional poetry and writing in general, is how little beginner writers tend to actually read. Especially poets. A lot of the times when I go to poetry groups, clubs, or readings and I’m talking to people afterwards, it’s hard for me to get an answer to the question: who is your favorite modern poet? 

       I’ve got to admit, I was definitely one of these kinds of poets when I was in high school. I read only the poetry assigned, as I believed that all modern poetry was just a bunch of hokey, beat-style hooey that could never recapture the magic of seventeenth-century poetry while being able to relate to modern sensibilities. I decided that only I, with my passionate sixteen-year-old soul, could write the poetry of my generation. 

     Which was absolutely ridiculous, of course- but I didn’t know that until I actually decided to suck it up and read some modern poetry, dang it. (And of course, by modern, I meant anything written after Shakespeare’s time in my mind). Sure, there was some of that beat poetry that I didn’t like, and the abstract modern poetry that I still don’t like because it’s too pointlessly obtuse. But there were other things too- there was sprung rhymes, spoken word slam, new ways to play with line breaks that read more like a conversation between souls than just a normal conversation. There was poetry from the point of view of refugees, minorities, people with different physical and mental disabilities, from different genders, sexualities and cultures. There was so much beauty to be admired in these new, modern words that I could have never even imagined! 

       To think I had once thought myself alone! Some times, the sheer amount of wonderful modern poetry made me doubt my own abilities. Could I ever become as good as these people? But then, reading more poetry has made me much more capable of recognizing the individuality of the poets- to celebrate the places that they are coming from, the insights that they bring, without feeling that my own talent or career or wellbeing is at stake just because I can see theirs! Even with the small moments of stress professionally, it still is overall much more beneficial for me to be well read in poetry. I love being able to try out new trends (or old forgotten trends) in my own writing, to see what new or old topics are being talked about by other poets, to see where I fit in not just as some individual, unique artist, but as one artist in a sea of talented people creating an ocean of emotion and creativity. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me lifted, and it keeps me going.

     Some of my personal favorites recently include Warsan Shire’s Teaching my Mother to Give Birth, Nayyirah Waheed’s salt., Kathleen Norris’ Little Girls in Church, Joanna Kurowska’s The Wall and Beyond, Lang Leav’s Love and Misadventure, anything by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and SETH’s Black Odyssey, and Simon Ortiz’s from Sand Creek. What are some of your own personal favorite modern poets? 

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Enjoy Children at Mass

I don’t talk too much on my professional blogs about my faith, partially because I hope that my writing does it enough for me, partially because I run a separate Catholic blog for that kind of thing and partially because I like to hold my faith a little closer to the heart to prevent me from coming off as preachy and having a holier-than-thou attitude. But this particular practice of mine has been consuming my religious poetry lately, and so I feel the need to mention it.

I enjoy having children at mass.

And I’m not just talking about the adorable sleeping babies or the kids attempting to sing the Alleluia three keys off tune in the pews ahead of me who are otherwise very well behaved. While I appreciate the parenting prowess of the people watching those kinds of children, I feel like it is a bit too easy to love and appreciate the kinds of children who are subdued.

I’m talking about the shrieking children who get hoisted up on to Daddy’s shoulder to be taken out in the middle of the rite of transubstantiation. I’m talking about the kid who pushes his little brother halfway down the pew. The baby who I notice attempting to steal my keys while I’m otherwise occupied, holding hands with his mother during the Our Father. The siblings who line up their toddler devotional books on the seat and then push them around making such loud train noises that I can barely make out the deacon listing off the Prayers of the Faithful. I’m talking about the troublemaker kids who make mass seem, for the most part, like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. The ones who take the silence of sacredness and rip it to shreds with no remorse, biting on Bibles with a giggle and a twinkle in their eyes.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s distracting. I don’t like being distracted at Mass- I’m the kind of churchgoer who prays a rosary beforehand and gets irked when the choir begins practicing early and interrupts the flow of my thoughts. This isn’t about inherently enjoying the presence of rowdy children at mass- this is about consciously choosing to do so.


I especially was brought to think about this a couple of Sundays ago at a morning mass at the Spirit of Christ parish. I sat next to a lovely woman in a beautiful chapel veil. She had with her her husband and three small children- the boys seemed both younger than four, and the daughter was still in the newborn stage. The daughter slept in her father’s arms the entire service- he even propped her up as if on a table when we knelt to pray, which was probably the single most precious thing I have ever seen- but the boys were an entirely different story. They sang out, they screamed, they laughed- they pushed each other, they tried to take the toys of the girls in front of us, they sat behind me in my spot when I stood for prayers; one of them tried to stay behind during the Eucharistic procession and ended up barreling through a couple people to get back next to them. The mother dealt with this with the patience of a saint- she took interest in what they were interested in, spoke in a soft, even tone to them and tried her best to give as much of her attention to the mass as she could spare form keeping her boys in line. The presence of those boys would normally have grated on every one of my last nerves. I don’t personally like when things are out of turn, ever, and boy were these little blonde angels out of turn.
Instead of let myself fill up with anger and indignation, however, I cleared my heart and quieted it. I thanked God for the existence of such lively, creative children. (Which turned out to be ironic because the homily for that day was about giving God thanks ahead of time, so that was kind of a smack in the chest for me). Instead of becoming irritated, I felt myself being filled from the outside in with a warm, joyous glow. I can’t really fully explain the kind of love that I felt then- it started with those boys and then just kind of radiated in and out, washing over all of that excess noise that comes with being at a crowded mass. It’s not as if I couldn’t hear all of those distractions out there any more- far from it. I was aware of them, and I was grateful for them. I was happy for the signs of abundant life there in that church, echoing and feeding into the Eucharistic mystery. I wanted to hug that mother and thank her for bringing her children. When it came time to say the Our Father, the youngest boy gripped my hand hard and stared up at me with the most calm blue eyes I’ve ever seen and smiled. For once, I wasn’t afraid to look at someone’s eyes. It was all the acknowledgement I needed. I left mass that day refreshed and energized in the middle of feeling lost and afraid regarding my impending thesis deadlines, graduation in a month and a half, and eternally uncertain writing career.

When we force ourselves to look at something that grinds on us just a little differently, its amazing how completely different we receive that experience. Just by making myself give thanks for the noisiness at church rather than grumbling about it, I was open to the grace that comes in the midst of and-paradoxically- through chaotic living. I don’t believe that you need to be particularly faithful to do this, though prayer certainly helped me, and I am certain that the love I felt at that mass was a direct gift from God.

But for those of us who aren’t religious or are looking for more of this kind of calming experience in a more secular kind of way, I would venture to say- find yourself a new perspective. Meditate on it. Write it into a poem (as I often do), a journal entry; a short story. Go on a walk and speak a new way of living to yourself, and see how amazing it is when that new way of living simply opens up through the act of willing yourself to see it.

So see your job as a live-giving experience. Assume the best out of the actions of people you consider your enemies. Seek for the love in the annoying things your siblings do. Take those rejection letters as abundant opportunities to make yourself a better writer. Be thankful for readings and signings with low attendance, for the room for growth and humility they provide. Forgive your lover for the small things, try to see their hobbies through their eyes. Enjoy the mischievous children at Church. The benefits are incredible.