My dear friend and Deputy Director of Arts & Culture for Lackawanna County interviewed me for Thursday’s episode of a livestreaming arts program. After the deubt on YouTube tomorrow it should be archived for a long time.
It’s going to take a few days before you’ll find it on Amazon or where ever you buy your books, but Dystalgia is coming. I’ll shout loudly about it when I notice it is available to order in print.
UPDATE: Now available here https://www.amazon.com/dp/1715307534.
I’d love to get someone else’s descriptions. This is the best I was able to come up with :
Alicia Grega’s verse stumbles forward through uncomfortable emotions and life’s disappointments with tongue-bitten humor and pop-culture distractions. We’re still breathing, so it’s not too late. Ultimately, she helps us find hope that the lush rooms left vacant in our hearts can be occupied again … after a good disinfecting.
A .pdf copy is also available now via Blurb if you prefer e-reading.
First a quote from Norman Fischer:
We now are so wedded to our objective, scientific, materialistic view of reality, which is a view and a philosophy, but we just take it to be – it’s real. And the imagination, we think is the opposite of this. It’s fantasy; it’s not real. We almost define the imagination as being what’s not real. It’s an opposite, right? Opposite is imagination on the one hand, reality on the other hand. That’s how we look at it.
… No. We make reality, in part, with our imaginations. And when we imagine a reality that doesn’t include the imagination, that itself if is an imaginative decision.
We need imagination to deepen and richen the feeling of what’s real.
All creativity, even technological innovation comes from the imagination. If there’s no imagination, the world is crushingly one-dimensional. Too matter of fact; not enough color and fervor. Every human ideal, like love, or the idea of justice, comes from the imagination. If we have no imagination, the world is too bleak. You can’t live it.-Excerpt from Norman Fischer’s talk on imagination to the Garrison Institute, “Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path,” (derived, in part, from his book The World Could Be Otherwise)
via Everyday Zen podcast: July 18, 2020.
This is the function of art and the purpose of artists in society. To imagine what isn’t and thread it through just enough of the familiar that audiences can accept the truth it exposes as believable.
This is why art should be –
Innovative or foreign enough to delight us – some level above or beyond reality as we know it
Not safe – risky enough to challenge or scare us – proof of imagination
Where we relate are the emotions: the universal feelings common across humanity – anger, contempt, disgust, enjoyment, fear, sadness, surprise.
What summons the emotional response varies – I may not know why that object or incident made you cry but I know what crying feels like.
We can reimagine the past – a la Hamilton racially diverse revolution or Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood. Or we can imagine the past through fresh eyes (Little Women, Harriet) or imagine the present through a specifically challenged POV.
We can imagine the future as a warning – the dystopia where we are heading if we don’t wise up and change our ways. Or we can imagine the world as we’d rather it be – with more romance and poetic justice, where the bad guys pay for their crimes, the underdogs overcome the bullies and everyone who wants to gets to play – not just the young, skinny, rich, and pretty – so no one has to sit on the sidelines under a joy-shattering mountain of rejection.
What kind of reality are you making? -ag
I spend a lot of time in this room. And thanks to COVID, it looks like I’ll continue to be spending a lot of time here.
I took these pics after posting on Facebook that I was feeling more creative after rearranging my office. The panoramas are my attempt to explain how I designed the room not for what it looks like on the outside (top pic), but for how the room functions around my desk chair, the control seat.
If you can’t write in a different place, in order to inject a little creative refresher into the grind, why not change the place you are writing. 🙂
The Ghost That Hums by Miranda Pikul
Now available for preorder: at https://www.mirandapikul.com/book
Miranda’s flowing verses dance from one line to the next, often without punctuation, through images in a painter’s mind. Her synesthetic meditations accept the unlikely couple – pain and beauty – walking together with casual awe through nature’s wonders.– Alicia Grega (Miranda’s mom)
She pauses in the precipices of memory, observing transformation with an introvert’s sensitivity to light and celestial signifiers. Everything and everyone keeps moving, changeable as weather, all of it beyond control – of course we are anxious.
An interconnected wisdom is modestly revealed with tender awareness of the life breathing all around her – not only the plants and animals and people, but even the rocks, waves, and raindrops, dishes, streetlamps, and paint chips send energy out into the world.
Ultimately, she plants a hope that some magic might happen if we all stopped what we were doing, went outside and looked up at the sky at the same time.
To be fair, she didn’t ask me for a blurb for her book. And she’s under no obligation to actually use it. Maybe it’s too silly to print “praise from my mom,” on a book. Understand, I do take both Miranda and her work very seriously. I admire her for self-publishing and not spending the next decade trying to shape herself into what some publisher thinks she needs to be in order to sell books. Writing blurbs like this is something I can do, so I did. I spent hours with her poems, with my editor brain turned off, just taking in what she created, grateful for the opportunity to get to know this beautiful brain & heart better. That she happens to be my daughter is astonishing.
Sometimes meditation is taking my cat for a walk in the morning before it gets too hot,
watching her sniff every fern frond,
simultaneously alert to dozens of different bird songs,
feeling the sun on her fur,
blinking into the intensity of unscreened light,
climbing as far up the tree as her leash will allow.
She seems to trust I will pull back on the harness only to keep her safe —
from whatever unknown lurks under the house,
from ick behind the garbage cans,
from cars that race through neighborhood streets more concerned with saving minutes than lives.
She examines the waterdropped threads of spiderwebs, each hovering insect.
The tiniest of butterflies, the first victim of her pounce.
When we first took these walks she startled at everything,
but she’s gotten used to the sounds of this outside world,
our backyard covered in Clover and Ivy,
shaded by the tree that makes sticky white berry clusters.
It takes patience to walk a cat,
to pause as often and as long as she does.
And then you realize her animal obsession with the cats next door –
the strays we cannot see but she can smell –
is the same nature that inclines you
to keep thinking of him
even though you cannot have him.
She looks to me for permission to play with a worm,
finally a real living thing that moves on its own
not like her toys where she has to force the action.
But then it works its way into the soil
and she doesn’t understand this cruel magic that sucks up worms.
She sniffs the soil furiously, shuffling under the leaves with her claws,
agitated at the injustice.
What else might be down there,
what treasures in the world she never before thought to imagine?
Second day of summer,
reading yoga mat sweat stains like Rorschach tests
like tea leaves
for the answers you refused to give me,
for hope …
I’ll soak up every ray of sun I can get.
On days like this when the humidity is so high
we can’t keep our faces dry and
No one knows if it’s you or the exercise,
Tears and sweat blend together
in forlorn potion of eye sting.
Love tried to look away,
but now the motion’s limited by
Inflamed with disappointment.
It was not supposed to end like this –
In the middle,
With love letters cursed …
Limping into summer unbalanced,
I shout into the digital void
A dizzying black hole of silence-
my words dead on arrival
I have been deleted.
This cannot be my destiny.
I am a sore loser,
Aching and throbbing all over.
Rocked that the solid foundation keeping me straight for seven years
Could dissolve in a firefly’s flash beneath my trusting peasant feet,
Washing away in an invisible wave –
Your private ocean.
So much you never let me see.
Last week the intoxicating fragrance of honeysuckle lingered in the air
today its resentful golden blooms wither scentless on the vine.
What is the word we call people who are being watched by the voyeur, stalked by the stalker?
No, not paranoid. (I have been reading Shirley Jackson …)
I only searched online for a few minutes but the term is not apparent. We name the active, traditionally male, party in this “relationship.” The passive, traditionally female, subject is just that – the recipient of the act. She is an empty, nameless vessel upon which the active aggressor places their vision.
Isn’t there almost always a persecutor? When we get that feeling we are being watched, it’s usually because we are. And if not today, then the haunt lingers from another time. When we felt insecure and threatened by someone who has taken a sudden interest in us.
I consider myself, in certain modest regards, to be a private person, confiding only in my inner circle. But I have put myself out there in excerpt, in print, and online, ephemera, scripts and scraps – bits and pieces of puzzle that would take years for anyone to assemble. I wouldn’t expect anyone to try – not even my poor children who I expect will throw some of the boxes I leave behind in the trash without removing the lids. Not because they don’t care, but they’ll grow tired. And really, I’d rather they spend their precious life’s time creating their own work, not drowning in mine.
In my teens and twenties, after I came out the other side of puberty, I actually enjoyed being on stage for a while. I sang and danced and didn’t care who was watching. It’s not that I enjoyed being watched. I don’t think I ever enjoyed that. I had been bullied and broken enough by a young age that I didn’t assume people would think well of me. But I did always want to be liked, to be admired. And later, desired. And so I tried to take control of my image, become the visible manifestation of a young woman that people would be inspired to treat the way I wanted to be treated. But this is not something one can control. As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see people are they are. We see people as we are.”
I did make a few friends over the years. Like-minded, beautiful, talented, brilliant people – most of whom I have failed to keep close. I didn’t make it easy to make friends. I wasn’t a desperate beggar out to please at all costs. The catch was I wanted people to like me for who I really am. I didn’t conform. I didn’t compromise my values or my vision to manipulate people against their will or better judgement. What I learned over time is that most people will like you for what you can do for them, for as long as you are in a position to keep doing it. If you can prove you walk the talk for long enough, they will respect you even if they don’t like you. And that can be enough.
There’s really nothing to be bitter about. Dare I quote myself? “This room can’t hold all of you who still live in my heart.” Don’t we regularly urge people to get rid of everything and everyone that no longer serves them? If it doesn’t make your life better … let it go and move on. Right? It’s okay. No hard feelings.
I wouldn’t say I try to be a good person. As in I don’t make a concerted effort against my nature to be good. I don’t enjoy cruelty or violence. I tend to share what I can with as many as I can. I am not a vengeful person. It’s my default to try and see from other people’s points of views. I want people to be safe and happy. It was never hard for me to see that other people’s needs are met before my own. But I am human, just like you, and I have done things that hurt people. I have done things some people probably think I should be ashamed of.
But I’m not a fan of shame and I beat myself up long enough for things that weren’t my fault to pick the whip up now that I’ve learned better. Shame is destructive rather than constructive and the people, perhaps, that should have it the most, have the least. Not judging anyone … but when a tool is used by the powerful to oppress the weak … they might want to test it upon themselves first to fully comprehend the damage it does.
What I try to do, is work daily within my means to give more than I take, to make more than I consume, and to be as loving and honest as possible. Simple responsibilities – no grandiose sense of debt – just paying the rent for this life I’ve been given. There’s an assumption we’re supposed to make the most of the life “God” gave us, yes? Point is, while I don’t broadcast every detail of my day, I have little use for lies or secrets. I can’t stop others from misleading or withholding, they have to make their own choices, but I believe in maintaining transparency.
So I am not too guarded about what I put out there. If I didn’t want anyone to know, I shouldn’t have done it. And I am a communicator. In my mind, life must be processed through art. That is what it means to me to be alive, beyond breathing and heart beating, art is the spirit. Art is a circle which is not complete until it is shared. I’ve never been too concerned with audience size. It’s more important that the act of art is fully consummated. The crowds of fame are a distraction I can live without. I am an introvert and better able to focus without too much fuss. The reality that most people are too busy with more important things than me to pay much attention suits me just fine.
So when suddenly it appears (damn you analytics) that someone is watching, closely, maybe even studying or scouring – I am caught off guard. I become fearful because I wasn’t prepared for this. I begin to see every word, every image I might present through the distorted lens of this stranger who might be looking for the worst, who wants to hate me or cause me harm.
How could anyone enjoy being this scrutinized subject for whom I can find no signifier? Tell me what pleasure is there in being the passive recipient of a gaze? To accept one’s lack of control is easy. To be confronted with the glare of curious agenda is dizzying. Paralyzed in the headlights. Is it safe to proceed? Will I carelessly create the evidence that will be used to destroy me? In the end, there is a survival instinct.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
I was probably upset about something the first time I walked in Cathedral Cemetery. It’s only three blocks up the hill and so the fastest I can get into a park-like setting without getting in a car. I wouldn’t have had a car when I took that first walk. I went without one for five years after totaling my first Subaru.
It could have been an ordinary day but odds are I was crawling out of my skin with anxiety. Afraid of taking a drink I’d regret because of loneliness, because of my neurotic fear of unrequited love. Walking was one of the only things that helped. If I could at least tire myself out, one foot in front of the other, until I stopped wanting to disappear, then I could get through the rest of the day – have a cool-down popsicle and pretend to read or watch a movie. Or maybe keep listening to an audiobook I had gotten into during the walk. Those are the best walks. When the book is so good you can’t help getting sucked in no matter how much real life sucks.
After a few walks on scalding afternoons, I figured out a route of maximum tree line in the shadiest parts of the cemetery to stay as cool as possible. The route has evolved over the years but one section I never fail to miss is a dip into an older part of cemetery along a stretch of unpaved path. There’s a tree the path turns around as it heads back toward the main road. And that’s where I stop to pray.
The sky is enormous there. It often looks like three different skies depending on which direction you face. Storm clouds ahead. Fluffy cumulus to the right. Three gorgeous shades of blue with cirrus accents and contrails over the mountains behind me. I don’t know how or why this spot spoke to me the first time, but it’s where I had one of the many spiritual experiences I documented at the beginning of my AA journey.
I felt a connection. I asked for strength, for guidance. I prayed for some kind of a sign.
My memory is weak but I can remember the fear well enough.
I cried that love had abandoned me again, and then my phone rang, paces away from the spot where I had prayed. Or I received a text message just when I was about to give up hope. Or once I came home to find that an email had arrived at the very moment I had prayed under that tree.
Sometimes I saw signs in the clouds. A random rainbow when there had been no rain. The shape of a heart. Maybe it was a feeling – relief or renewed hope that all I had to do was keep loving without expectation of anything in return and everything would be okay.
In the end, it always was okay. And this has helped me get to today. Just get through the uncertainty. Wait for the dark clouds to blow away and the sky will clear again.
On good days, when I was happy, I still stopped to pray in that special spot, offering thanks and recommitting myself to service in gratitude for all the blessings I had received. Sometimes I prayed for others who I knew were struggling or sent out love to the universe.
My walks in the cemetery grew rarer after I was given the gift of a gym membership. But on days too beautiful to spend inside or when I could deal with being around people, the walk was always there for me. An old friend, a welcome change of pace.
And then the coronavirus shut everything down. Without the gym, that old walk has become my new daily habit. The cemetery is literally the only place I’ve been outside my house in weeks. And as this cursed year of 2020 would have it, I’ve found myself in need of strength and guidance again. I’m getting too old for broken hearts. I fear that like the bones that grow more brittle with age, my heart is no longer able to bounce back to an optimistic outlook. My daughter tells me 48 is young but I’m convinced after she moves out, I will die alone.
For all my prayer, why this lack of hope?
My prayers had been answered before and I wanted to believe they would be again. I had sinned, sure, but no more than anyone else, and I hadn’t I paid for those sins? In suffering, in trials carried with gracious trust, always giving back everything I could, doing the right thing as often as I could without expecting a reward.
I’m no saint, but my God is not a punishing God. I don’t believe shame or blame are helpful. And I’ve worked hard, trying to rewire myself, to stop beating myself up. My Goddess is not a judgmental, vengeful old white man on an intimidating throne in the sky. My god is all that is good in our consciousness, a mysterious force beyond human understanding, an innate sense we are born into this world in our hearts. There’s something cosmic in our DNA that guides us through our darker instincts intact and leads us away from destructive temptations. My god is love – unconditional love because no matter what evil we do, we are worthy of redemption as long as we are willing to change.
But now, in this new time of need, there were no signs. Nothing to see. Silence. No encouragements; no answers. I’ve gone home empty handed, got back to work. The work has kept me on track. People are counting on me and I cannot let them down.
Still trying to move forward but with no resolutions, no clues, I struggled even more to get through this last week. And that’s when things got weird.
Instead of no signs, suddenly there was a murdered bird. Right on the path, steps from where I begged the skies for mercy. I saw feathers first, sprayed out before the bird’s body, ripped open and left behind by some predator.
That it was a bird had significance. An obvious symbol of my estranged love. Was this my sign? The signs had always been pleasant in the past. Rewarding. This was horrific. Was I supposed to understand it was over for good this time?
I couldn’t bear the thought. Maybe this was just a bizarre coincidence. Surely God hadn’t killed a bird to shake me from distress, urge me to move on?
On the way back to the house, I ran into another bird a block from my house. This one injured, probably stunned by a car, it lay inert in the middle of the road with its legs up in the air. It fluttered frantically as I approached, tried to upright itself and fly away but couldn’t. What was I supposed to do with this bird? Pick it up, carry it out of the road? Its sudden fluttering shocked me. I thought it was dead at first. I ran away. Then I hated myself for not getting the bird out of the road. I cursed my weakness. It would certainly be run over. It was going to die anyway … maybe that would be most merciful?
On the next day’s walk, there was no sign of either bird. As if the slate had been wiped clean. Could this be the sign? That renewal was possible even after such horror? It’s a stretch – there are no right answers here. Only what I can come to believe. The walk was uneventful. Better no signs than evidence of nature’s brutality.
But then Thursday – if I didn’t know better, I’d think God was getting annoyed with my pleas and decided to fuck with me. That’s what I get for putting stock in such silly superstition. But wait, I don’t believe in that kind of god, right? I am on no deity’s radar.
As I stand in my special place of prayer, reading the clouds like tea leaves, trying to make some meaning out of everything I don’t understand, an old man in a red Trump MAGA hat, dirty red v-neck sweater and baggy black jeans barely held up by their belt, appears out of nowhere and limps toward me.
He asks if I’m looking at the trees, if I like the wilderness.
Then he begins to recite … a long rhyming tribute to the wilderness. “Listen,” it urges.
And at first I am amazed.
What kind of sign is this? Not a cloud or a text tone but a real live poet?
Am I to be reminded of my calling to write, to compose, to recite, to perform those words?
Is it okay that I am going to be alone because I am meant to do this work, play the role that I have been assigned?
If only the poet had left when his poem was over. Nodded knowingly and wandered away … But instead, he tells me how to find his website, and that’s when it clicks.
I had met this man before.
He pulls a book out of his backpack to show me. Is he selling this to me, trying to get me to buy his book? Who does that? Walks up to a stranger communing with nature in the cemetery and tries to make a couple bucks?
I remembered him from Staples. When I worked in the Print and Marketing department and felt sorry for a colleague who put way too much work into some Eagle Tree poem project for this man only to be scolded by him. In the end, he may have apologized. At least she didn’t seem to mind helping him. But he certainly wasn’t entitled to the free design work he demanded and he didn’t seem to appreciate it when I saw him at the counter.
The random poetry recital could have been a lovely moment – mysterious and inspiring. But nope. It had to get weird. It became fraudulent somehow … Like I was being laughed at.
I was almost afraid to walk on Friday. I considered driving to the park, but what if I were to run into …
I can’t stop praying just because I don’t like the messages I’m getting. I’ve walked earlier the past two days and did not run into the poet again. The skies have been beautiful, dramatic and changing but ultimately meaningless. I’ve read my spiritual texts and meditated every morning but I worry I’m losing my faith. Some kinds of suffering wear a soul down more than others, makes it all seem like a scam. Was everything I believed all these years just a lie? Or maybe I’m just shedding old skin, transforming again. I can’t stop praying because the communication has become automatic. I feel connected to the world around me even when I feel alone. Nature will not abandon me like people do. My cat is here with me while I type.
I told the poet I will buy his book after the summer is over and my school contracts renew and I don’t have to hold my breath that I’ll be able to pay rent or utility bills. He doesn’t think I will remember but I made a promise and I intend to keep it.
I would write this piece, I told myself, as he walked away, so that I wouldn’t forget to look up the website and find the book. He will forget me, though, he said, and won’t remember how, in that moment, he had decided to personalize the inscription. There was something special he wanted to say.
These words will have to remember for both of us. Not that I’ll send him a copy. But I write this today so neither one of us has to hold on. There’s too much to carry to add the weight of fleeting words. It’s better to let them go. Like the clouds. There will be a new sky tomorrow.
-ag, june 7 2020