Art Gives My Life Meaning, But I Need Ducats

Graphic of a starry night sky with comet passing through.

Shooting Star – graphic by Estela

So, did you look up at the sky and see the comets last month? I looked, but didn’t get to see them. The sky was overcast. :( Besides, I live in a city, and cities pollute the night with light. But I have seen shooting stars, when I lived in a smallish town. To me, comets are like natural poetry, their beauty more spectacular than fireworks. They give me a feeling that goes deep, an ineffable feeling.

I miss seeing a black, star-filled sky. I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the meteor shower. I decided if I couldn’t see a shooting star, I would draw/paint a graphic art representation of one. It helped ease my longing.

Although I miss a vivid night sky, living in a city, I love it here. It’s a city of poets. Published and unpublished. I’m grateful, because I’m lucky to be here. Not too long ago, this bitch says to me, and I detected a presumptuous, haughty air in her demeanor, “Estela, do you still live here?” I understood her fucking implication. “Yes,” I said, ignoring her tone. She was surprised. “Oh,” she says. Her eyes opened a little wider, her brow jumped up. It gives me pleasure that I disappointed her fucking, smug expectation. A lot of people in the neighborhood have been displaced, and she assumed perhaps I might’ve been. I know she would just love to hear that. It would feed her sense of superiority. She owns her house, a house her ex bought, and when they divorced she bought his half, with a loan from her parents. There’s more to this story, but that’s all I want to say about it right now. But I will tell you this: this woman told me she hates poetry, really hates it, that she doesn’t understand it. To her, poetry and poets are incomprehensible and useless. It later occurred to me–she reminds me of my mother.

I live in the Mission District, which is currently the trendy place for techies. I half don’t mind. There are things I like about the changes, and things I don’t like. But it isn’t my home, per se, it’s just where I happen to live right now. I don’t really have a place that feels like home. I mean, I haven’t grown roots anywhere. I’m a tumbleweed.

Graphic of a tumbleweed in the middle of a highway.

Me as a tumbleweed blowing down the road of my life.

A Texas tumbleweed, since I was born in El Paso. The wind of Fate carried me here. But in a general sense, I’ve grown a few roots in the Bay Area, where I’ve lived half my life. Oakland and San Francisco are the only cities I have ever been in love with. I once thought I loved Berkeley, and was thrilled when I got to live there. But one day I woke up and realized it was only an infatuation. I hate Berkeley. Well, “hate” is such a strong word. But I am intensely disinterested. With the city, I mean.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live anywhere else. I mean, some place where I WANT TO live. I hope so. I just have these dreams in my head. That’s me, the perennial dreamer. But, for now, I need, and want, to live here. I love living here. It’s a good place to promote my poetry, myself as poet, as artist. And I really like some of the poets, storytellers, and various artists I have met here. I like them very much.

I used to be ok with the idea of the “starving artist”. I really thought I could live like that forever. I guess I was misguided, a Romantic idealist. Or maybe I didn’t have enough confidence. It’s easier to resign to poverty than to hope for success. I tried one job after another, but couldn’t hang. I was a job hopper. I was accused by my own children of not wanting to work. But that isn’t true. I wanted to. It’s just that it made me feel suicidal.

I’ve never wanted to be anything but an artist. That has been with me for as long as I can recall. So has hard Luck. She’s persistently kicked my ass. I’m hoping she’ll lighten up some day. But Luck isn’t always dark. Sometimes Fluke pops in, like a small miracle. Fluke has been good to me. I think of Fluke as Luck’s child. Sort of like Cupid is Venus’s child.

I have a poetry reading coming up. Poets read at book stores, cultural centers, libraries, cafés, bars, and all kind’a places.  In my neighborhood, there’s a new monthly poetry reading. This one is at a panadería, a Mexican pastry shop. This is the Mission District, which has been designated a Latino Cultural District, just as Chinatown is designated an Asian Cultural District. So, it makes sense to have readings at a panadería. Ricardo, the host, titled the reading series, Pan Dulce, which means pastry, or, literally, sweet bread. :D Ha. That makes me chuckle. My poetry isn’t sweet. It’s mostly sardonic. :twisted: But, truly, I have nothing but love in my heart. <3 It’s really tongue-in-cheek. Even with a poem like You Make Me Sick. I don’t know if people get the deeper meaning–that being with an abusive person does damage to the soul of the victim. I want to give voice to women who are abused, to empower them.

Last month I attended Pan Dulce, and there was a good crowd, a diverse crowd. I like diversity. I’m reading on Tuesday, the 8th. Four of us will read, and then there will be open mic.

Flyer forpoetry reading at La Reyna.I’ve never ridden in a car like the one in the flyer. I feel lucky and grateful to be included. I’m happy to represent.

This reading will feature four brown women. Antonio, an artist, a painter, would say we are red, those of us of mixed ancestry, indigenous and Spanish. I agree with him. I hope he shows up and offers words of wisdom again, and sings another healing and cleansing song. He always starts by asking permission of the ancestors to speak. He was born in Mexico, he said. Where in Mexico, I don’t know. I totally love him, his words, his way, his art, indigenous art, it’s so beautiful. Most my life I’ve lived in diverse neighborhoods, so I’m acculturated. But I still remember the indigenous frame of reference that was more prominent in my early childhood. But my mother wanted us to acculturate, even if she didn’t know that word.

Living as an artist isn’t easy. It’s a gamble, really. Lydia Lunch, a rocker, poet, performance artist, says, “If you make art for money, it isn’t art.” I agree with that. But it’s ok to earn a living with art. If you can. Hell, she has. But the art matters more than money, more than your name, reputation, fame. For me, art is a compulsion. I need to do it. If I don’t, I feel like there’s no reason to live. I don’t want to do anything else. I’ve tried.

I’ve struggled to be my true self. In fact, I write words in an effort to find myself, my self, me.

I’m reading Tao Lin, reading his novel Tai Pei. I’m loving it. I intend to read more of his work. He’s a writer and a visual artist. He’s just a kid, for god’s sake, and I find him incredibly inspiring. He says something like, “There is no good or bad art. It’s just a matter of preference.” I agree with the second half of that. I believe there IS good and bad art, but art is subjective, so who gets to call it, really? Lin is absolutely right: art is about preference. An artist just has to find her audience, patrons, people willing to pay for her (or his) art.

I believe in myself. Shit. As soon as I write that, the demons rise. They say, “Who do you think you are? You’re fooling yourself. You aren’t good enough.” And they laugh at me. Abusive motherfuckers.

BEGONE, you assholes! I believe in myself! 

Life is an amazing experience. I’m so grateful to be alive. Art gives my life meaning, but I need ducats too. I have to keep putting myself out there.

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“…Make Me Sick”

Small dream catcher on bed post.I saw a “search” on my blog’s dashboard that read, “dependent women make me sick”. Hmm, I wondered, a man with a dependent bitch on his back? A strong, independent woman who has no understanding or compassion for women raised, socialized, psychologically primed to be dependent, no understanding or compassion for women with no resources, options, or a support system? 

Many years ago, I heard about a guy who broke up with his girl, but she wouldn’t let go. She’d call incessantly, go to his house, show up at work, his friend’s house, the club, wherever she could find him, begging him not to leave her. This guy finally says, “Woman, what do I got to do, kill you?” Freddie the Freeloader, when he was around, when I still found him charming and amusing, related this story to me with all the charm he had as a storyteller, gesticulating, with facial expressions, an amusing tonality in his voice. We both burst out laughing. “What do I got to do, kill you?” he repeated. Yuck-yuck-yuck-yuck. Heeheeheehee, he chortled. Ahhhahahaha, I howled.

After a good laugh, I said, soberly, “Ha, he probably doesn’t understand how he creates the problem himself. He doesn’t really want her to leave him alone.”

Freddie stopped laughing. “Huh?” he said, stupidly, looking uneasy. At the time, I wasn’t aware that Freddie had a bitch he couldn’t get rid of. When we met, he told me he broke up with his cheating girlfriend, that he wasn’t seeing anyone. I also didn’t know that in a couple years, he’d marry that disgusting, manipulative pig. They were both manipulative pigs. They manipulated each other, and they will do that for the rest of their lives. Like some people I’ve known. They might break up, now and then, call it quits–“For good this time!”–but, shit, they’ll get back together and start the drama all over again. Forfuckingever.

Freddie jerked me around for a year. Then he packed his shit in two boxes. He carted them, one at a time, to his friend’s car. His friend drove him to the pig’s apartment.

I went to my room, sat on my bed, hung my head down in sorrow, quietly shed some tears, sniffled. I got a Kleenex, wiped my eyes, blew my nose. I was sad and simultaneously relieved. I got up to toss the soiled tissue in the trash, when I saw his guitar. There it was, still propped against the corner of my room. He loved that guitar. I knew Freddie wasn’t done with me yet. That guitar was like a foot in the door. I thought, Oh, no way in hell. You are NOT leaving a reason to come back here. You are NOT coming to claim your guitar when you damn well feel like it!

The next day, I called his friend and asked him for the address. He hesitated. I said, “I just need to let him know I sold his guitar.” I promised him I had no plans to go over there, or ever contact him again after this. His friend knew me. He gave me the address.

I wrote:

I sold your guitar. I needed the money.

I didn’t sell the guitar. I planned to give it back to him after I felt better. I figured a few months, maybe a year.

I never heard from him again. He never heard from me again. I got stuck with that damned guitar. I eventually gave it to a friend, six years later. I would’ve returned it to Freddie, but I had no way of contacting him. Oh, well.

Manipulators make me sick. They lie, or keep quiet. “I didn’t lie to you,” Freddie had said to me. He didn’t tell me what he should have, because he wanted to freeload. Lies can be unspoken words.

I married when I was sixteen. I was completely dependent on my husband. I left him when I was thirty. I hid in a shelter for four days with my three children. I filed for divorce. I never went back to him. It never crossed my mind. I have never, never, never, never regretted it. Although it’s been rough. But that’s a story for another day.

I’m still trying to find my “place”. I might have made different choices if I’d known thirty-five years ago, what I know today. But, hell, life is what it is. As Tyreese, from The Walking Dead, said, before he got bit and his friends stabbed his brain and buried him, “It went the way it had to. The way it was always going to.”

Lately, I’m feeling positive. I know some cool people. Writers, poets and storytellers. We run into each other at poetry readings. They read. I read. They teach. I didn’t get my MA, because high anxiety prevented me from writing a thesis. :-( But, “it went the way it had to. The way it was always going to.” These young poets, with their Master’s, who teach, call me “a bad-ass poet”. Some young women poets have told me I inspire them. Shit, if that don’t make a bitch feel great. :-)

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Assholes and Narcissists

Grapic of solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse – graphic by Estela

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve thought about it, but couldn’t “get here”. There was an invisible barrier. I mean, it’s just opening the computer, logging in, and–boom, get to it. But, psychologically, it’s more than that. It’s a journey. I have to travel from over there, to here, to this dimension, this realm. I didn’t have the energy to get here. I didn’t have the courage. I didn’t have the self-esteem.

What goes on in the world, in our City, in this State, this country, my life, fatigues me.

There was a death at the end of May. Cancer. Unexpected. Quick. That death broke my heart, and it broke my heart to see other people grieve. I got depressed.

Stuff happens,  and I feel compelled to go inside myself, inside my Self. Be alone, totally alone.

I thought about abandoning this blog. But I might perhaps think twice about that, as it has been a life-long pattern of mine to abandon myself, which is like taking the ball that was handed to me and running with it. I want to stop running.

This weekend, I finished a poem that I’d been working on for a couple weeks. The final draft is much like the poem I initially wrote, yet different. The revised version is much better. I thought I was done, but every morning I’d look at it, and was dissatisfied. I added lines/words, subtracted lines/words, moved them around, only to put it all back as it was. I changed the title three times. Finally, I subtracted a stanza, tightened and polished lines, kept the final title, and voila. So much better. I surprised myself. I mean, I’m happy with it. Will it work for anyone else? Hell, that I never know. Will it embarrass me? Well, hell, they always do. But, this is my work, this is my art. I need to just leave it at that.

Writing makes me feel uneasy. As if I’m embarrassed that I exist. Neurotic me. Sad, terrified me. Insecure me. And sometimes fucking pissed off me.

You know when I like myself the most? When I’m a confidant, dark-humored asshole. I mean, not that insecurity, self-loathing, and regret doesn’t kick in later. An unjustified self-loathing. When I elicit whoops, laughter, or cheers when I read or make some comment before I read, when people say something positive to me, it surprises me and I’m fucking grateful. I tell myself, “Look, Estela, you’re all right, man. You’re all right. That shit people in your past flung at you was about them, not you.” Even as I write this, I see the looks on the faces of those assholes, hear the put-downs. I’ve learned to walk away, though I still regress to that of level insecurity. People like that exist in this world, and I will continue to encounter them. But I will walk away, walk away, walk away. I mean, you have to make sure to stay humble, but understand you have value, and you don’t deserve to have insecure apes, hiding behind arrogance, fling their shit at you.

I referenced Sylvia Plath in this poem. Thirty years ago, I devoured her poetry. I was Plath obsessed. I gravitated toward her dark poetry. I still occasionally read them. Not to share in that despair, but because I love the beauty of her brilliance. Hell, to have just portion of that would be magnificent.

Thirty-five years ago, give or take, I read her newly published Journals. I later read her Letters Home. Wow. What a contrast. Her journals are as dark as her letters (to her mother) are light and airy. In those journals I can feel her suffocation in that metaphorical bell jar. Poor Plath. All that brilliance and privilege, but couldn’t get to the bottom of what ailed her. I think her mother was a narcissist. Plath referred to her as a vampire.

Being an asshole isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the type of assholeness that counts. Some make a living out of it, like Letterman, Conan, Colbert, Louis C.K., to name some of my faves. They are brilliant, and a riot. They can make me gasp, and go, “OH! No, you did not say that! Ahhhhahahaha!“:D

When Letterman first started out (early 80’s?), I read a Rolling Stone article that described him as abrasive, said he sometimes pissed off people, he hurt feelings, that one female guest burst into tears. Oh, I thought, he’s a real asshole. I didn’t want to watch because I figured he was too mean, and I was too sensitive to bear that. But in early nineties, I passively started watching, and I became a fan. I liked his snarky assholeness. He seemed brilliant, and he had a kind of dignity, and he was self-deprecating. He couldn’t tolerate warm fuzzies, praise. He’d squirm and say, “Oh, stop it.” You’d think they were squeezing his balls or something. I didn’t always agree with his point of view, but that’s just how it is in life.

Sometimes C.K. offends me, or makes me uneasy; sometimes I think, Oh, no, man. Too far. Uh, uh. I can’t accept that. But I’m still a fan.

Narcissistic assholes, that’s a whole other ballgame. Narcissistic mothers are the worst. Vampires sucking self-esteem out of their daughters. Never satisfied. You’re never good enough. Daughters become over-achievers or self-destructive. Narcissistic mothers can be overtly aggressive or subtly passive-aggressive. Mine is subtle. In Plath’s letters, I get the feeling she was fawning for approval from her mother. She was all peppy and everything was hunky dory, birds chirping, butterflies, flowers, sunshine. That had to be exhausting.

I once told my mother I was sorry if I said or did things that were misunderstood. She looked at me, tightened her lip, and snapped a nod of her head, “Humph!” What had I expected? I don’t know, but not that. I must have unconsciously wanted her approval. It dawned on me I was apologizing just for being myself, not for anything I’d done. I handed that one over on a silver platter. I instantly regretted this unnecessary, unwarranted apology. I hated myself for it. My mother exhausted me. She eclipsed my soul. Maybe in a ghostly manner she still does, like when someone treats me condescendingly. I walk away, but I stew a little bit. Geezus, I’m a sensitive asshole.

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Rebel Writers (plus a poem – Sinner)

Graphic of red moon and yellow stars against a black sky

Red Moon, graphic by Estela

I said I didn’t want to continue writing here. I haven’t made up my mind yet: should I stay or should I go?

I had a dream last night about poets. Not academic poets, but rebel poets, free spirit poets, bohemian poets, poets who hate “the establishment”. Old guys who are gone now, and whom I never met. But in my dream they were there and I was there. I was chastising them, criticizing them, chewing them out, calling them losers and reckless fools. Telling them I regretted my stupidity and naivete at having loved and admired them. Telling them I followed them because I believed in them, but I no longer did. I woke up feeling depressed.

I was listening to Hank Williams. Lost Highway is a great song. I got inspired to write this poem called Sinner. Williams’ song is about remorse, guilt, and judgment. Mine isn’t. It’s a dark humored rebellion against shallow judgement. I think I will open my next poetry reading with this one. My poetry reading at Adobe Books. It’s a Flor y Canto Festival, and I’m happy I was invited to be one of the poets to read. One of the readers I’m reading with is A. D. Winans, a San Francisco born, award winning poet who was a friend of Charles Bukowski. Bukowski is my number one favorite writer in the whole world. I’d read that he knew Brautigan too, but Winans told me he didn’t know Richard Brautigan, but they drank in the same bar, Gino and Carlo’s in North Beach, and only had casual conversation. Brautigan wrote Trout Fishing in America, which brought him lit fame, but my fave is In Watermelon Sugar. I love all his novels. I have them all (in paperback) and one book of poems, which I found at a used book store over thirty years ago. I think he’s got mainly a cult following now, though it’s possible he is taught in academia. I really have no idea. I’ve never met anyone who knows him. They always go, “Who?” Geezus. :/ Anyway, I remember when I  saw Brautigan’s picture on the front page of the newspaper, with news of his suicide. He blew his brains out a la Hemingway, his lit hero. His decomposing body was found in his Bolinas house. It was estimated he’d been dead a month. It broke my heart.


I guess you can say
I’m a sinner.

Drinking, and smoking,
and cursing,

kicking up my heals
to blow the blues,

all those things
a “good woman”
shouldn’t do.

I rambled a bit,
and gambled a bit,

and gave my soul
to rock and roll.

But I don’t repent my past.
I had a blast.

So, I suppose
you can call me
a goddamned sinner.

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠    Please, feel free to comment. :P

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Bukowski, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Plath

Cherry blossoms on the ground.I might be closing up this experimental blog soon. I’m growing bored with it.

I didn’t know how to work WP when I first got here, learned as I went along. Still don’t understand everything, but I got the basics down. I’m curious about the format list, but I haven’t experimented with it, see what happens. I have “standard” checked.

I understand how the media files work, how they are connected to the blog. In the beginning I didn’t know that if I erased an image (in the media section), it would disappear from the blog post. Now I know the media and the blog page (text page) are technically two separate files, and when I add an image, the image file, or media file, and text file, the blog page, get linked. So if you erase the image in the media file, you’ll get a blank space linked to your blog post. I also learned that images should be kept small before uploading to the media file, that even if I adjust the size of the image on the text page, the file size remains the same in terms of bytes. Larger files take longer to load, and a reader with a slow connection will have problems. I read that on some tech site.

I know. You don’t give a shit about that. But it’s interesting to me. I like learning things, especially on my own (autodidactically). Most teachers (or professors) left me flat. They didn’t tell me what the fuck I NEEDed to know. It made me crazy. I’d go to class (at Cal) all prepared to ask a question about a line or passage in the material we read–the assigned story, poem, or novel–and time and time again, the professor asked the question first, asked it of us; it was the topic of discussion for that hour. And I’m like, what the fuck? Why am I here if you are asking me the questions I already have, instead of giving me answers, information, knowledge? I don’t fucking know the answer, that is why I have this question. (I never shared this thought/feeling with any professor.)

But that’s the thing. There are no simple or singular answers when it comes to literature or an intellectual inquiry. But if the professor could’ve given me some information, something, anything, I might’ve been able to bounce off of that. I couldn’t bounce off a fucking void.

Hell, maybe it’s me. The theory was, which I believe was (is) Platonic: to teach, ask questions, which creates a dialectic.

That didn’t work for me. I need answers, then I can agree or disagree, or it might spark another idea for me. Being an English student studying literature at UCBerkeley was a struggle for me, who had insufficient experience in literary conversation, in intellectual discussion, in intelligent discourse. My time at the community college was like a crash course. Having gotten married at 16, I’d been in an isolated, ignorant void, with no contact to intelligent or intellectually curious individuals. I had a lot to learn, a long way to go. My ex used to call me a “mind fucker”, a term he got from the movie Serpico, and he ridiculed me for being curious and wanting to satisfy my need for knowledge. For Beauty, really. I still crave it.

Hell, that’s the story of my whole fucking life, a crash course and on my own, cuz ain’t nobody to lead or give a shit.

I’m just here talking to myself. “This is my letter to the world,/that never wrote to me.” I’m tired of just talking to my damn self. I’d like “the world” to write to me. Give me a thought, man. Ain’t’cha got no thoughts? What’s the point of writing in a fucking void?

For me, there are four crucial writers: Shakespeare, Bukowski, Dickinson, and Plath.  But, next to Mother Goose, Kerouac sparked the blaze–my love of literature.

Although I’ve been writing essentially my whole life, for myself, to myself, I was thirty when I got on this road, pursuing connection to a lit world, lit life. I’m 65 now (or will be on April 30), I’m a grandmother, and all I have (that matters to me) is one poem published by Ishmael Reed. And that was over 20 fucking years ago.

It’s my fault, mostly. I don’t do enough to promote myself. On the other hand, I want to be published, read, accepted, because I deserve it, not for any other reason. I want to create literature, not creative fucking writing.

It’s “my fault”, but it’s also Fate at the reins.

I’m listening to Cage the Elephant. Rock and roll inspires me, motivates me to write. It’s like pouring fuel, a combustible, juice, into the fire. So does jazz, and blues, and classic country, and bluegrass.

If I close this blog, this personal blog, I will eventually start another. Elsewhere. Sup’m different. But not as “Nobody”.

Shit, I totally know most of what I say goes over heads. (The allusions.) Or under the feet. Or armpit. Of the silent few who read this. I can only assume, so, I suppose I make an ass out of u and me.

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(About) Poetry and Me

Image of small turtle.

Turtle gets there, slowly, but surely.

I used to think Emily Dickinson lived a beautiful life, shut away in her room, writing poetry, secluded, solitary, reclusive. As a teenager, I thought, What a great way to live! For most my life I believed that. I envied it.

But, now I think she had a sad life. (With the exception of her devotion to poetry, and letters to family and friends.)

She is a great American poet, who created a unique style. Emily Dickinson was inherently a poet. She wasn’t/isn’t a poet because she wrote poetry, she wrote poetry because she was a poet–didn’t write to be, but wrote because she was.

Dickinson sent poems to Higginson, who was an editor for the Atlantic. She wanted to be published. He told her she wasn’t ready. But he was intrigued by her, and they stayed in touch for the rest of her life. (She was 32 when she sent him her first poems.) He helped publish her after she died, but he “corrected” her work, using conventional rules of writing. She’s most famous for using dashes for punctuation and capitalizing words unexpectedly. It didn’t dawn on him that she knew what she was doing. :?

Getting published was not as important to Dickinson as creating her art. She didn’t “write for the market”. Of course she wanted to be published, but not getting published didn’t make her give up writing.

Nothing wrong with writing for the market. Hell, if you can make a few bucks, or a few million–like Danielle Steel, Sydney Sheldon, Paul McMullan–well, cool. :/ But that isn’t creating art.

Alley Cat Book StoreI was invited to feature at Voz Sin Tinta earlier this month. I hadn’t stepped up to the mic in several months, and I was nervous about it. I even felt a little sick a few hours before the reading. My insecurity had kicked in. But, in the end, the reading went well. One gal said to me, “You fucking rock!”  :)Depiction of cute donkey with two thumbs up.

I do think my poetry rocks. Until insecurity kicks in. Then doubt kicks my ass.

This guy came up to me, after the reading, and he hugged me. He told me I was the only one there he was interested in hearing. Then he asked me if there was anyone like that in my life, and he seemed concerned. I had read You Make Me Sick (which I posted on my blog a couple months ago). When I read the first line, “Since you’re gone,/I feel free of fear,” I heard a few groans, and after I read the line, “This is how it feels/to be safe,” I heard the groans again. It felt and sounded like pity groans. :( I reassured the guy that it’s a muse, that there is no one like that in my life. (Not anymore.)

“So, it isn’t personal experience?” he asked. I said, “Well, some of it, but not all of it.”

My poetry isn’t 100 percent autobiography. I embellish, I exaggerate, and I invent. So, it isn’t about me. It’s a speaker who could be anybody. It’s art–art is a manifestation of the spirit of humanity, a representation of the human condition.

I’ve been watching videos of poetry readings at this cafe where I wanted to read. It has history. Some of the people who go up to the open mic look like home is some underpass somewhere. There’s a woman who shows up, and I happen to know she’s a delusional, manipulative, homeless nutcase. (I don’t want to expound. Let’s just leave it at that.) My heart sank when I realized she shows up regularly. She isn’t a writer herself; she reads out of a book, a poem written by someone else. Which is fine. I got no beef with that. Sometimes people do that. My issue is her. I don’t want to be where she is. When I realized she was following me around, I got creeped out, not to mention annoyed. I wonder if she heard me say I wanted to read there. Maybe she did, or maybe it’s just coincidence she goes there. I don’t know. But I don’t want to be where she is. I run into some of the poets who read there, poets I like. One of them looks like he’s a card short, but he writes some of the best poetry I’ve heard. He’s brilliant, really. But some of those people who read at this place aren’t poets. They’re playing the part, and they write trivial, trite, drivel. (Of course, this is my opinion. BUT, I know what I’m talking about.) I changed my mind about reading there. If an opportunity came up, I wouldn’t turn it down, but I’m not going there of my own volition.

I have sometimes tried watching poetry readings from UC Berkeley (UCTV). I’ve never lasted more than thirty seconds to a couple minutes. Time and time again, I’ve found them boring and pompous. I tried to enjoy this one poet, a poet older than I am, who’s “somebody”. I won’t name him. But he bored me too. I made myself listen for a couple minutes, because I knew him. (I met him many years ago.) He was so happy to be there at the podium, so proud of himself, all beaming and enthusiastic. He said he heard squirrels running on his roof, and so he wrote this poem. I thought, I’ll bet they were roof rats. I’ve heard roof rats, but I’ve never heard squirrels. That’s when I lived in Berkeley, in the early nineties. The landlord told me they were not squirrels, they were roof rats. He set out some d-Con, and sure enough a few days later I found a dead rat the balcony. I’m convinced this man heard rats running across his roof, and he wrote a sentimental poem about squirrels. Ha, :D that’s funny.

It isn’t easy to define art, what is art and what isn’t, because it’s subjective. I might hate what someone else loves, and vice versa. That’s just the way it goes.

I love and hate the poetry scene. Love it. Hate it. But I love poetry. And there are poets out there I like very much. And, hell, shit yeah I like getting positive feedback. I love that. <3 It’s encouraging.

I want to be published. There was a time it didn’t matter, but now it does. I will continue to write. I love it. But it isn’t enough. I want to be published. I have to find my way there.

I have another reading in May:
Adobe Books, 24th Street, Thurs, May 14, 6:30 – 7:30.
I will be one of four featured readers. I’m looking forward to it.

Posted in Art, Autobiographical, Poetry, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writers and Wannabe’s

Birch tree in winter.When I took my first creative writing class, at a community college, back in 1980, the class wasn’t crowded. We were a tiny group, less than a dozen, that returned each semester. But after a couple of years, it got bigger. One semester bam! it was packed.

Since I was kid, I’d written stories and poems, but just for myself. I knew I wasn’t a “real” writer, but I wanted to be. When I saw Jack Kerouac read from On The Road on the Steve Allen Show, I knew I wanted to grow up to be a writer. A writer like that, like him. Awesome.

I didn’t know who Kerouac was. In my home, no one knew much about anything. My mom, like anyone else, knew entertainment celebrities, of course, but she wouldn’t know a literary figure. Or even give a shit. Ever.

Hearing Kerouac read, I was mesmerized. I fell in love. Possibly with Kerouac (I was 9), certainly with the idea of writing like that. I felt he had some grand and deep understanding. I hoped when I grew up, I would too.

I forgot about Kerouac and On The Road. Not about my desire to write, just my seeing and hearing Kerouac read. Until decades later when I see him in a film clip. That jarred my memory. My god! I thought. I remember seeing this! Oh. my. god. It was Kerouac!

Kerouac’s name came up in my creative writing class. My teacher wasn’t impressed with him, but some students were. He was long gone from my memory. At least, on the surface. I wanted to know who this Kerouac was. I bought On The Road at a used book store. I read it and loved it. (I also love Big Sur. In a Kerouac documentary, Ferlinghetti says Big Sur is garbage. I don’t agree. It’s sad, though, because in Big Sur Kerouac is deteriorating physically and mentally. Booze got a grip on him; fame suffocated him.)

At the community college, a lot of folks didn’t think much of creative writing, as if creative writing were inconsequential. But I, and my creative writing classmates, loved it; we loved our class, our instructor, and our time together. For me, it meant everything.

The instructor didn’t expect much of anyone. He thought most people had more enthusiasm and ego than potential or talent. (He told me this.) But he was a good teacher. He didn’t discourage anyone. I learned a lot from him. But I still had a long way to go. (I’m still learning. I always will.)

I met Freddie the Freeloader at Cal. He’d won an Eisner. I asked if he’d give me advice. At first he refused, but he finally acquiesced. I showed him the piece of shit prose I wrote. I knew it wasn’t good, but that’s why I asked him for advice. His attitude was shitty, arrogant, his tone pejorative. “This is passive,” he said, sweeping the back of his hand down the page, glaring at me as if I’d committed some horrific faux pas. He may as well have said, “This is passive, you asshole.” I was embarrassed. I felt humiliated. Geezus, he didn’t have to make me feel like a worthless piece of shit. Notwithstanding that, it was an invaluable clue. Thanks, asshole. I’m truly fucking grateful.

At the community college anyone could take a writing class. But at Cal you had to submit samples of your writing. Not everyone made it in. I was talking to an instructor, and a student who didn’t make the list came in to ask if he’d reconsider. When the instructor refused, the student argued his case. The instructor wouldn’t budge. Finally, the guy drops to his knees and begs, hands clasped in supplication, whimpering. “Please, please, oh, please. I swear, I’ll show you I can write. I can do better. I swear.” The instructor was taken aback. So was I. I was embarrassed for the guy. And amused. I smile to recall it. :D

“All right, all right. Get up.” the instructor finally said. After the guy left, the instructor says to me, “He’s a terrible writer. He’s not going to get any better. I don’t believe that for a minute. But he wasn’t going to let up until I let him in. You saw him.” He shook his head then he slapped the air and goes, “Ah,” thoroughly disgusted.

I wonder if the fool is still writing. I wonder if he got an MFA. I wonder if he’s published. I wonder if he teaches. I hardly remember what he looked like. But I clearly remember his arrogance and his terrible writing. He believed he was a good writer. It isn’t impossible he might’ve improved. With time. With practice. Lots of it. If he were open to criticism. I doubt it. But even a lousy writer can get an MFA.

A professor at Cal told me they didn’t offer an MFA (back then). From her tone and attitude, I could tell MFA’s weren’t thought of as highly as MA’s. Years after I graduated, I learned they now offer an MFA. I know an excellent writer who got his MFA there. (I think he’s brilliant.) I wonder if the English department still considers an MFA inferior to an MA. I’m not in academia, so I wouldn’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me. But MFA’s generate revenue. That’s the bottom line.

As a grad student at San Francisco State, I didn’t take creative writing. I was still writing poetry. But I’d had it with creative writing classes. I hated the last class I took at Cal. It was the ONLY creative writing class I ever hated. The issue was the guest instructor. I’m not going to expound on that. Suffice it to say, I never wanted another creative writing class. Ever.

I’ve read about the proliferation of MFA programs around the country, and an increase in people interested in creative writing. I have noticed that everywhere so many people are interested in writing. There are writing workshops at art centers, cultural centers, health centers, senior centers, youth centers, community centers. There are writers (or wannabe’s) who meet to share, encourage, practice, critique. I’ve heard of a Meet-Up group who play “writing games” for “creative exercise”. (Good lord.) Everyone and their mother wants to write. I’ve read articles arguing for and against MFA’s and creative writing classes. Here’s a quote from one particular article:

The love-hate relationship between creative writing MFA programs and writers has not changed much since Kurt Vonnegut was playfully piqued by the emerging phenomenon of writing programs in the 1960s. He liked the attention and money, but doubted that writing fiction could be taught. 

Last year, N+1 Magazine persuasively schematized the path to publishing a novel as either ‘live in New York’ or ‘get an MFA’ and argued that, despite the cost in tuition and a powerful place in the publishing ecosystem, MFA programs have little effect on the quality of writing a student produces.

I think this increased interest in writing is narcissistic delusion more than anything else. A desire for fame, recognition, attention, applause. That’s my opinion. Literature is art. Talent is innate. Not everyone has it. Not everyone is a Raymond Carver, or a Robert Boswell. Shit. I half regret I didn’t major in creative writing. But I still write. Struggle with it. Alone. For myself first. Art is my pursuit. If I have talent, I’d like to be published. If not, well then, fuck me. Shit, I hope I’m not a wannabe.

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