It’s a Crazy New World; I Feel All Right

Isabel says, “Get back! MINE!”

It’s been a year and less than two months since a pandemic was called, and the world changed.

But now we got a new pres, and he took charge of this pandemic. He’s got vaccines going into arms.

I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine the 20th of April. It felt celebratory. From the staff to security guards, congratulating folks as they left the place. My appt site was out at Bayview, a short cab drive from here.

I had no side-effects, other than a sore arm for a few days. I still wear a mask, keep distance, and stay home. But I do feel a sense of relief, cuz, theoretically, I’m safer now. But, IDK. The experts don’t know for sure, cuz it’s a learn as you go thing. How long will the vaccine last? I don’t think they know.

Poetry readings moved to Zoom. I was happy to hear they went online; I missed the readings. The coolest thing is you can live anywhere. Someone from New York shows, someone from Kansas shows. Folks from up and down California show. We all meet for a poetry reading w/o leaving home. Live readings are better, though. In a live reading, there’s an energy. Energy between people, among people. That’s missing in a Zoom reading. But it’s better than nothing.

At the last reading, I read a poem I wrote for my dog, Isabel. Shit. I could barely get through it. I struggled to not cry. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m very emotional about my dog.” I would stop, shut my eyes, take a deep (shaky) breath, tried to keep my mug from contorting and tears from falling. Geezus, I must have been a pathetic sight to see and hear. Afterward, Sash (fake name) turns on their mic, and says, “Estela, you don’t have to apologize for caring about your dog.” Maybe they felt embarrassed for me. IDK. Their tone felt a bit judgy. To me. The intonation. But I’m a very sensitive person. And how did I answer? I nodded and said, “I’m sorry,” and turned off my mic and camera to cry in private.

It’s the pandemic. Pandemic fatigue. It’s come to make me feel like jelly.

Isabel had three teeth pulled last October. The vet couldn’t pull a fourth rotten tooth, cuz Isabel’s heart-rate dropped dangerously low. It was a close call. It seemed to unnerve the vet, and of course it unnerved me. She cleaned the tooth, and left it at that. It would fall out she said. IDK if it has. I haven’t seen any tooth lying around anywhere, and I can’t look in her mouth, cuz Isabel says, “Stay the hell away from my mouth!” So, I do.

I had taken her in cuz she yelped when I picked her up. I didn’t know what hurt. Her vet didn’t find anything wrong with her, the lab results looked good. But she had four rotten teeth. They had to come out. Now, she has a lump in her toe. Her little back paw. This lump must have been growing, and her foot was tender, so she yelped. But nothing was detected in the lab work, and nothing was obvious. It was early March, I took Isabel out back to do her business, and I noticed she had a fat paw. I made an appt. for her.

Her vet was out ill, and I agreed to have another vet look at her. I’d never met this one. I told her Isabel was a fearful dog, and can be aggressive. She asked if Isabel would be more comfortable if we spoke Spanish.

Cuz Isabel is a Chihuahua-mix? Cuz I have brown skin?

“I’d be more comfortable,” she says. She’s from Brazil.

It’s assumed I speak Spanish. Fluently. I’m a Texan. But I grew up in a small town near Sacramento. “I only have few fragments left, a few words and phrases,” I told her. “English is easier for me.”

“Oh,” she says, disappointed, “I just thought…OK,” and we proceeded in English.

Some folks I’ve met get upset that I don’t speak Spanish. It isn’t so much that I don’t speak it, it’s that I don’t understand a lot of it. I’ve lost what I once knew from childhood and Spanish courses I took for my language requirement in college. I didn’t intentionally lose it, it just worked out that way. I’ve had a couple or three people take a subtle dig, give a look. Micro-aggressions. IDC. I try not to cross paths w them, if I can help it.

The vet took Isabel to the back room, and in a few minutes came running back to the room where I waited. (They say it’s easier to handle a dog w/o the owner being present, so they take the dog into different room for the thorough examination, in case you don’t know.) She says, “I take it you look closely at this dog.” And I go, “What?” I didn’t like her tone or the implication, but I remained cool.

“SHE HAS A TUMOR!” she says, excitedly, a little hysterical, really, as if something were my goddamn fault. She proceeds to give me the third degree: when did I notice it, how long has she had it, when did I call? Then she stops, and says, more to herself, “But she’s been seen.” And I said, “Yeah. She’s been seen plenty of times.” She told me she would take a sample and send it to the lab, and rushed back to complete her exam. It isn’t the questions that annoyed me, it was how she asked. Her tone loaded with suspicion and blame.

She called three days later and said the lab concluded it’s an idiosyncratic growth, not a tumor. Could be arthritis, or could be an old injury, causing some kind of build-up in her bone. And here I’d been thinking my dog would lose her leg or her life. I broke into tears of gratitude and relief to hear it was not life-threatening. She will lose her toe, though. And that made me cry too. To have her little toe amputated. To pick her up from the vet with her toe chopped off. I couldn’t stand to think about it. This vet says, “MY GOD! THIS ISN’T A DEATH SENTENCE FOR YOUR DOG!”

I thanked her for the info, told her I would gather myself and clear my head so I could absorb all this. She asked if I wanted an anti-inflammatory for Isabel. I told not at this time. I’m not a vet. I don’t know what meds Isabel needs. Why she asking me? Then she said I could take Isabel to see her for the follow-ups, since she is the one who diagnosed this. But it was up to me which vet I took her to.

Would she have reacted differently if I had communicated with her in Spanish? IDK. I kind of think so, but that don’t make it so.

I took Isabel in to see her regular vet for the follow-up. I told her I don’t want Isabel to have her toe removed. She told me what I already knew, that if it hurts her and makes her miserable, it’s gotta go. “It isn’t ethical to let a dog be in pain,” she said, calmly. “I know,” I said. “I came to that conclusion. I don’t want her to go through that, but if it’s in her best interest, then I have to let that happen.” When Isabel has her teeth cleaned again, prob end of the year, she’ll also lose her toe. Her vet said, tongue-in-cheek, “She doesn’t need that toe.” I took that to mean, she’ll be fine without it. I know she will. Of course I know that. I’ve seen plenty of three-legged dogs happily walking with their humans. I’ve seen handicapped dogs. And this is just one little toe. But this is my beloved Isabel. The dog no one wanted, tossed out to fend for herself. My unbalanced little critter, whose made so much progress. Slowly, but definitely. It’s a thrill to see her improve.

Her vet didn’t charge me for the follow-up. She didn’t have to do that. But she did, and I’m grateful. She’s been a great vet for Isabel. She said Isabel shouldn’t be on an anti-inflammatory at this time. I’m glad I declined when the back-up vet asked if I wanted a prescription for her. My intuition was right.

Pandemic Part 2 this year. They don’t know how long the vaccine will be effective. There’s been a few issues. I’m still hearing contradictions about the origins of the virus. There are still unknowns. I feel ambivalent about the vaccine. I still wear a mask. I walked up 24th Street the day of my 2nd dose, taking Isabel with me. I carry her in a sling. She loves it. I went to get a lotto ticket. (Someone in San Francisco hit it, but it wasn’t me, damnit.) So many businesses are gone. It’s sad to see that. This virus has kicked ass. We’ve got climate issues. And there’s some political insanity going on as well. I worry about it. I think often of the poem Dinosauria, We, by Charles Bukowski. (Maybe I’ve mentioned this before. This does rather spin in my head.) It’s a crazy new world. But mostly I feel all right. Curious. A little bit hopeful.

.

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Kissing Off 2020

2020 was a sonofabitch. Good riddance.

Too bad it ends with the new strain of Covid showing up in Colorado. Someone told me California too, IDK. It’s more contagious, they say. Shit! Although physicians on the news, the experts out there, say the vaccine will work for the new strain too. I’m like, Do they really know that for sure? IDK. But time will tell. For sure.

I wasn’t surprised to hear of the post-Thanksgiving surge. People gathered. This is an awful time, a trying time, and being foolish will only prolong it. It’s foolish to gather, no matter how close or how well you know someone. No one is immune. (Yet.) This thing isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m assuming another year, but hoping by next summer we’ll be safer.

Hopefully, the vaccine will help neutralize this “walker.” That’s how I think of the corona virus: Walkers. My son says, “You’ve been watching too much Walking Dead!” Ha. (I watched ending of TWD, but haven’t been interested in the other “Dead” shows. I barely made it to the end of TWD, cuz I hardly cared anymore. When the “little shitkicker” shows up one season, a few years after her daddy is dead and gone (but he isn’t), a badass little girl, wearing the hat, fearless and skillful with a gun in her little hands. The show picked up some, but not enough to compel me to follow the characters onto the new related shows. Some of the best are gone. Or, my faves, I should say. Even Carol, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t like what they did with her character. After meek and abused, they made her fabulous–strong, bold, and capable–then turned her chicken-shit.)

I had a fat birthday in 2020. That’s “FAT,” not “PHAT.” And I’m tripping. It’s been a tough and rough journey, my life. I don’t know what to think anymore. And this fucking pandemic threw another goddamn wrench into things.

I’m old. But I don’t feel old. Boomers made 50 the new 40. Boomers held on to “young,” and are “younger” than our previous generations. Cuz Boomers sang along with The Who:

People try to put us down.
(Talking ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around.
(Talking ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful cold.
(Talking ’bout my generation)
Hope I die before I get old. 

But they (we) got old, and those rockers realized they did want to live. That’s why Patti Smith, covering My Generation in concert, sang, “Hope I LIVE! before I get old.”

I’m glad to be alive. I may be disappointed with my life, but it’s my life. This is how it was meant to be. “Went the way it was always going to.” I’m doing my best, goddamnit. I don’t think it’s enough, but it’s all I got.

Neighbor cut his hair, dumping it  in the back yard. UGH!

One thing I regret right now is that I don’t drive. How I long to get into a car (better yet, a truck) and drive somewhere. Anywhere. The beach. Some public park. Or just a fucking stretch of freeway! I’m stuck here. In The City. In my flat. Gotta be grateful to live in this shithole, though. At least there’s a backyard. Even if Fuckhead, the landlord (who lives upstairs), leaves it a fucking mess. And his long-time boyfriend, Jughead, is such a fucking slob!

Cut hair dumped in back yard

I had to take my dog to the vet a few times and I called a cab. (I don’t use ride-share. I want a professional driver.) They put plastic shields between the passenger and the driver. Most of ’em roll down windows. Everyone wears a mask. My son, with whom I co-rent this flat, and I took a cab last week to pick up an order of tamales, salsa, pickled jalapeños, and posole from drag queen Juanita More. Otherwise, we’re playing it super safe. I’ve been out the house/flat maybe six times. My son, I think twice. The fewer people out there, the better. He works from home, so he’s lucky. So many have lost their jobs. I’m retired from the mandatory grind. We have everything delivered to our door. We are lucky to be able to do that. I’m grateful.

And you know what? This pandemic had to happen to. It’s helped to open some eyes. Not all, but some. Some got eyes, but no heart; they got it made, so they don’t give a fuck.

It’s a sad day in the world, when I say I’m glad someone died of cancer. Eddie Van Halen didn’t die of Covid. He lost his battle with cancer. He lived virtually twenty years after his initial diagnosis. R.I.P. What a loss. Neither did Charley Daniels. He had a hemorrhagic stroke. (Aneurysm?)  John Prine and Charley Pride died of Covid. Y el Trini Lopez tambien. A Texan, a Mexican-American Texan.

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning. I’d hammer in the evening. All over this land. I’d hammer out danger! I’d hammer out a warning! Hey! Hey!

Not sure I believe there’s love between “my brothers and my sisters all over this land,” though. But, hey, there’s always hope for better days.

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The Year Before #pandemic2020

24th Street

A year before shit hit the fan, and we were told to stay home, shelter in place, because a deadly virus was loose in the world, my life was all right. Not great. But all right. All right enough. Just enough.

I went to poetry readings. Read my work, heard others read. I could forget about my slumlord for a while. That fucking rat-faced weasel. Now I’m home all the time. And this shithole  depresses me. It’s gotten worse.

It’s time to leave San Francisco. I was looking for someplace else to live. But the pandemic forced me to put that on hold. When the dust settles, I’ll get back to that. I need to get out this place. I don’t feel safe.

I will miss sharing space with the poets and writers I’ve met here in The City.

I was scheduled to read at an event a year ago this month, last April, but I got sick. I  had a bad cold. A big dog of a cold. I was sniffling, coughing, had a horrible headache, and felt fatigued. I emailed Amanda (fake name), who curated the reading, and told her I couldn’t make the reading. I had planned on reading six poems, two were new ones I wrote specifically for the reading. I asked if she’d read my two new poems. She was initially reluctant, said I have a very distinct style, and she didn’t want to misread my work. I told her there were no curse words, in case that’s what worried her. (Last February, the last open mic I read at, when Cash (fake name) introduced me as the next reader, they said, “If you’ve been here before, you know what’s coming.” I seem to have a rep.) Amanda said to email the poems and she’d take a look at them, see if she felt she could “do them justice.” The theme of the reading was teachers and activists. I wrote a poem called Substitute Teacher and one called Grasshopper. She said she liked them, and she would read them. I was really grateful. It was an alternative participation. My poems were there, even if I wasn’t. To me, it’s the work that matters.

Then in June, I learned Amanda invited folks to come have a farewell drink with her at The Blind Cat. She had resigned her community college teaching job, and was headed back to San Diego. It was a FB post. I’m not on FB, but someone sent me a text with an image of the post. I had to be there. I had to say good-bye.

Most the people who showed were poets and writers. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I asked Amanda what made her want to be a poet. She said she got interested when she went to college, but also because of Jim Morrison (of The Doors). I said, “No shit? Jim Morrison was one of my inspirations!” Emily Dickinson, then Jim Morrison. After that, Patti Smith. (But I’ve lost interest in her. To go from “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” to shaking the Pope’s hand, looking up at him in awe–makes me feel she isn’t who/what I thought she was; or she changed into something/someone I cannot abide. And her book, Devotion, I think is a piece of shit. In it she says hubris was her reason for writing. WTF? Hubris? That really put me off.)

Amanda, Oscar (fake name), a poet I met long ago, Andrea (fake name) a journalist I met that night, and I were the last four at the “party.” Amanda and I were talking and howling. (Um, laughing. Loudly. Not actually howling. In case that isn’t clear.) We came to realize we had more in common than we ever knew. Finally, Andrea said, “We need to  make an exquisite corpse.”

“What’s an exquisite corpse,” I asked. Andrea said it was an exercise the surrealist painters invented. They would each draw a piece of a body. A collaborative creation. She said she would write a line, pass the sheet to the next person, who would write the next line, and that person would fold over the first line, so the next person could see only the previous line, and contribute their line. She tore out a piece of paper from a notebook she carried in her bag. (Of course. She’s a journalist. Always ready.) Andrea wrote a line, then passed the sheet to Amanda. She wrote a line, folded over Andrea’s line, and passed the sheet to me. I wrote a line, folded over Amanda’s line, and passed it to Oscar. The paper went around the table several times, until we got to the bottom of the page. Then Amanda read the collaborative poem. We were pretty pleased with the end result. The four of us were there till about 12:30. I got home at 1:00 a.m.

The next morning I emailed Amanda and told her I had a great time, and felt inspired. I was working on a poem, and when I finished it, I would send it to her. Two weeks later, I emailed it to her. I told her I looked forward to seeing her again, that this was NOT the end. The poem is called Riding the Storm. It’s filled with allusions to Jim Morrison/Doors. She liked it and posted it on FB. She wanted Amanda and Oscar to see it. Then she posted a tribute song to me by the Doors. “Even though she’s not on bookface,” she said. (Someone sent me a text with the image of the post, so I’d know about it.) She posted Riders on the Storm, one of her fave Doors songs.

Amanda returned in October, for LitCrawl. Oscar curated the reading, Amanda was one of the featured readers. She did a collaborative thing, inviting me, Oscar, and a poet with cerebral palsy she had met at a reading to participate. She had written a poem inspired by the one I wrote her, one inspired by the poet with the palsy (I don’t know him, and don’t recall his name, but I recall he was good looking, really cool, radiated inner beauty, and wrote beautifully!), and Oscar had written a poem inspired by one Amanda wrote. So we all read our particular poem, and Amanda, of course, read the corresponding poem. I enjoyed that reading very much. It’s the last time I saw Amanda, but we text each other now and again.

Here’s the poem I wrote for her:

Riding the Storm

“Oh, great creator of being, grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives.” — Jim Morrison

I ride the storm alone
“like a dog without a bone”
like a blind cat.

No realm of bliss this
but an endless night
as some are born.

We four
kicked it
at the favored
corner dive bar
on 24th Street.

Throwing back beers
the two of us
like drunken sailors
filled the air
with boisterous
laughter.

Pen and paper
passed around the table.
We all
like a bohemian bunch
one by one
crunch words
to piece together
an exquisite corpse.

It rose to our delight
on remarkable feet.

I’m a Romantic.
Romantics take the hard road,
the road not travelled
by the rational.

It’s a hefty price,
but fuck it.

The beauty
I on occasion encounter
is worth it.

I’ll dance on fire
till the music’s over,

ride the storm
like a goddamn boss
until the end.           =====© 2019

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Life in the Time of the “Cabrona” Virus

It’s a bitch. This cabrona virus, the coronavirus, covid-19. I read one article that said the virus came from fish. I read another article that said it comes from bats. And then I read that pangolins might be involved.

Pangolins? What the hell is a pangolin?

Oh. Some scaly mammal that feeds on ants and termites, found in Africa and Asia. It’s an ugly critter. I think. They roll up like big ol’ roly poly bugs. Got long curvy claws. They’re apparently an endangered animal, illegally hunted and poached. “Demand is especially high in China and Vietnam where pangolin parts are used in medicine and served as a culinary delicacy,” I read in an article in The Christian Science Monitor, July 2014. An article in the NYT, just a few days ago, says these critters may NOT be linked to this new cabrona virus. This virus that’s killing people around the world.

And then there are the murmurs of bio-warfare gone wrong. But a Dr. interviewed on the news (don’t recall, PBS or BBC – the only news I watch anymore) disputed that idea. He said there is no evidence that it’s an engineered virus. “It comes from nature,” he said.

I don’t know what to believe. But it doesn’t matter. What is true is that there is a deadly virus loose in the world, and it’s wreaking havoc. People losing their lives. People losing income. Small businesses going kaput. But of course, banks still expect their moola: A waiter in Italy who got laid off when the restaurant closed said,

“I have a wife and two children and we’re living off our savings. But I don’t know how long they (sic) will last. I asked my bank to postpone payment instalments (sic)– they said no. This situation is bringing us to our knees.”

That was in The Guardian, on April 1, 2020, an article about how people in Italy have quit singing on their balconies, and are starting to freak. Not about the virus, but about ending up totally bust. Broke. Poverty-stricken.

We’re living in a new reality. And there is still so much mystery.

At the beginning of March, I felt ambivalent about going to the monthly poetry reading at the bookstore a few blocks from where I live. It was their seventh year anniversary, and it was going to be all open mic by community poets. Last year, a lot of poets and poetry lovers showed. Poets from here in The City, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, even Sacramento. I’d been looking forward to this reading. But part of me was feeling maybe I shouldn’t go, because I’d been reading and hearing the news about this virus. And I had even wondered what the hell did it take to call it a pandemic, because it sure seemed like one to me. Then, boom! The World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic. The day before the reading. The reading was still on, since The City hadn’t taken much action on the health issue yet, other than to limit gatherings to fifty. Shit, the mayor had been encouraging people to go out to dinner, because restaurants were losing business. She said just keep a safe distance, and make sure the crowd was under fifty. Only a week earlier, Pelosi had been in Chinatown encouraging people to go there, because they started losing business. Personally, I thought it was BAD ADVICE! From both broads!

I didn’t go the reading. That was the second week of March. Then on the third week of the month, The City told us to stay home. (I heard it said it was supposed to be a coordinated effort by Bay Area mayors, and ours jumped the gun, as if it were her own idea. Yeah. As if…) A week later, the Gov. told the whole state to stay home.

Coffee cake comfort food,

A week after the initial shelter in place order, I went out for groceries. I felt like I was braving the land of The Walking Dead. The coronavirus being the “walker” posing a danger to my life. Shelves were emptier than the streets, though there were def fewer folks out there. Some kept distance, but some fools didn’t seem to get it through their thick skulls to do that, as if the rest of us were irrationally panicked. A few people wore masks. Some homemade. Two weeks later, more people are wearing masks. More of them homemade.

It was early February when I began to feel very uneasy about this virus. I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Baking makes me feel good. Eating baked goodies makes me feel good. (Not without guilt. But when my guilt said, you’re gonna gain weight!” I said, “I don’t care! I don’t care!”) Baking is good for the soul. It’s good for mental health. Did you know that?

Homemade brownies.

Anyway, when the shelter in order came, I made a coffee cake, with slices of apples underneath the struesel topping. Last night I made brownies. Aw, man, they were so good! The best I’ve EVER made. Chocolatey, moist, chewy. Perfect! Pure poetry!

I want to bake bread too. I’m out of yeast, but I put it on order. (We are having groceries delivered, but there’s no guarantee we will get everything we ordered. Or that our order will be delivered. It’s a sign of the times.) I walked to a local mom and pop the other day. They didn’t have flour, shortening, vanilla extract, or oatmeal–some of the items I had on my list. The gal at the counter was wearing a plastic

Good morning, sunshine. Isabel says, “Hello.”

shield over her face.

I try to stay in the moment. I’m concerned, and cautious, but I’m not panicked. It is what it is. It will go the way it has to. I’d been working on some poems, but right now I can’t seem to get back into that. Instead, I bake. I read. I watch movies. I play with my dog. I post on IG.

Women’s literature.

“I think I’ll reread The Last Man, by Mary Shelley. I imagine her rolling over in her grave, and saying to her critics, “How you like me now, bitch!”

 

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Shit

After her bath. Apprehensive ears up.

Been too long since I’ve posted. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue with this. But, here I am.

I live frugally. It’s a tough journey, this life of mine.

I need to move. I’m even willing to leave San Francisco. There are better reasons to stay, and good reasons not to. I need a place for my little Isabel, who has a personality disorder. Her vet said it might be severe trauma, or genetic, or both. “You know how some people are? They just don’t function well? They can’t. There’s something wrong with them,” she said. “Isabel is like that.”

That makes me love her more. Dogs like her get put to sleep. I think she deserves to be loved. She isn’t easy. But she can be so charming.

I carry her in a sling, a dog purse,

Carrying Isabel in her sling.

because she is too afraid to go for a walk. If I see another dog, I cross the street, or I turn around, so she won’t make eye contact. She challenges. It’s fear-aggression. And also possessiveness. She’s guarding me. Ha. Barely 10 lbs. Right, little one. You’re gonna kick ass to protect me. Uh huh. Her aggression is no joke, and her fear is heartbreaking. She’s a special little thing. I love her so much.

I’ve been researching Kathy Acker. I wrote a poem about seeing her once, named it after her novel, Great Expectations. She was known to “plagiarize,” pirate, appropriate, deconstruct and reconstruct literary texts. She was a Punk writer. When I first read GE, an assigned reading in a graduate class, I didn’t particularly care for it. We read a novel a week, so there wasn’t much of an in-depth lecture/discussion. Kind of a “speed dating” thing. I didn’t know anything about her, and she isn’t an easy read, so it got past me.

I saw her in a book store in San Francisco, in 1995. Not reading, just as a consumer. My son and I went to Modern Times Bookstore, on Valencia. (He lived around the corner from it, I lived in Berkeley.) We were looking at books displayed on a table, and there was a woman there too, standing on the other side of it. I was gushing about getting into a poetry workshop with Quincy Troupe. She looked up, and eavesdropped. Blatantly. Stood there staring at me. I presume she thought me lame. I won’t argue that estimation. After we left, or maybe she left, I don’t remember, my son says, “You know who that was?”

“No. Who was it?”

“That was Kathy Acker.”

“What! That was Kathy Acker?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, my God! Wow!” I said, like a lame bitch. “I didn’t really like her writing,” I said. “I didn’t get it,” I admitted.

Geezus. Kathy Acker. We passed right by each other. Her skirt brushed against my pant leg. And I’m gushing about QT. She must’ve thought, “You dumb bitch. Don’t you know who I am?”

Her hair wasn’t cropped, nor was she dressed provocatively, like her picture on the book that was sitting on my shelf. When I got home, I went to the bookshelf, got my copy of GE, looked at her image on the cover. Yup. That was the face. At the book store, she was dressed in a bright mustard yellow skirt, and a color-coordinated print blouse. Her blond hair about to her earlobes, the front pulled back, gathered on top of her head. Her clothes were bright and crisp, like new. She looked like an ordinary middle-class woman. Actually, she had an air of privilege, you know, like upper class. I didn’t know back then that she was born into wealth, but had rejected that society.

Kathy Acker. Stared at me. At me! Listened. Like a snoop. That look. It stayed with me. She had no idea. She left me something. That moment. It’s mine. I got gawked at by Kathy Acker.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later. She died in 1997.

She left SF, but returned just before she died. (I had moved to Oakland, then relocated to an innocuous shit town, near Sacramento, because of a shit job I took, but it was union, and it paid well, working for a shit corporation. I’m not sorry they recently filed for bankruptcy.) Back in SF, Acker checked “into a decrepit hotel in the Tenderloin.” Someone once said to me, “You know what they say about the Tenderloin, don’t you?”

“No. What do they say?”

“It ain’t so tender.”

It’s a rough area. Drug addicts, drunks, people with cognitive issues (you know, severe mental illness). From there, Acker went to a hospital in Mexico, where she died.

I don’t live in the Tenderloin. But I may as well. My fuckhead landlord isn’t a slumlord, cuz he ain’t rich. “He’s ghetto,” my son says. Meaning, he’s ignorant. He’s still like a slumlord. Instead of finding someone to fix the lock on the door to the basement/laundry room (cuz he doesn’t know how), he got a wire coat hanger, extended it, wrapped it around the doorknob, and hooked

the curved end to a water pipe. “There. That’ll work,” he said proudly. That’s a ghetto fix. There are two units. I live in the lower unit. He lives in the upper unit.

Hole around drain pipe under my bathroom sink.

Gay or straight, a man is a man is a man. And a man don’t want no bitch telling him what. Fuckhead is gay. His BF, Jughead, is a volatile jackass, who harasses my fearful Isabel, rattling his keys at our front door, blowing a whistle, using a fucking air horn, shit like that. She rushes the door barking and growling fiercely when he passes by. She hates him, because she fears him, because he harasses her. I try to stop her, calm her, but her brain is full focus on it, so if she ever learns to remain calm, it will be a long time from now. I’m doing the best I can with her. I once heard Jughead growl at her, “Shut up!” And Fuckhead laughed. I hope one day they get their just deserts.

Fuckhead denied there were rats. Then the rat shit started piling up in the basement. He said it was mice. (As if that were better.) He denied there were leaking pipes. Then water

Water leak. Above my bed. Killed my mattress.

poured from recessed lights above my bed, and killed my mattress. It  stunk to holy hell, cuz it mixed with the rat piss and rat shit. When the plumber cut a piece of the ceiling out, piles of rat shit poured onto the floor. Fuckhead shrugged, snickered, and said, “Heh, mice.” The plumber goes, “Oh, no. That’s not mice. That’s rats!” I refused to pay rent that month. I had to get a new mattress.

Carpenter ants are doing damage, but Fuckhead refuses to hear me, to investigate, to acknowledge it.

Next door, the woman is extending her kitchen. In The City, a lot of houses are up against each

Neighbor’s reno construction crew sliced ceiling in my bathroom.

other. When her reno crew removed a part of her building, right up against this one, they sliced the ceiling in my bathroom. The other holes were already there. Removing her wall, revealed the shoddy construction job of my bathroom. Because now the outside light shines through, three different places around the plumbing.

Morning light through clear packaging tape.

Fuckhead painted the house last year. He’s a very surface kind of asshole. That includes his personality. Total facade. To look at the house, you’d never guess rats nest in the walls.

I covered the peekaboo holes in my bathroom with packaging tape, cuz it’s all I had. It’s depressing. But it makes a great image on the shower wall. The morning light filters through the the folds of the clear tape. I don’t know how long it will be before Fuckhead gets around to covering the holes. He’ll probably use duct tape, Gorilla Tape. And if it rains in my bathroom, I really don’t give a shit. Let it. I don’t care anymore.

I’m looking for a new place. An affordable apartment. So are hundreds, maybe thousands, really, of other people, in one of the most expensive cities in the country. And I have my special case Isabel. Here, there’s a backyard, it’s a shithole backyard, but a backyard; and yes, I do bag and dispose of her doodie. Without a backyard for her to do her business, because the world frightens her, I don’t know how it’s going to work out if I live in an apartment, not a flat, and I have to take her outside onto a fucking city sidewalk, where she’s terrified. Will she adjust? After how long? How much will she suffer from stress and anxiety? She’s housebroken, but will she regress? Shit. What a dilemma.

I dream, futilely, of a small house for us, with a backyard, or a condo or apartment with a patio, where my beloved, fearful, nervous, charming Isabel can do her business, feeling safe and not stressed and frightened by the world. That would be worth leaving San Francisco.

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Is it All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Accept the fact that everything that makes up your world is there because you attracted it with your own thoughts. Realize that you can control your thoughts and emotions.

Vertical crack in the wall near a corner by a door.

Image by Estela.

Three YouTube “stars” touted the statement I quoted above. They fell to their deaths last summer. Swimming near a waterfall. Where they weren’t supposed to be.  Because it was dangerous. But they didn’t care. They were living it up. “Living the life.”

Um, well, I guess they attracted their demise.

In November, I learned that Eileen Myles was coming to San Francisco for an “Artist’s Talk.” At the Nourse Theater. On Hayes Street. I learned about it the evening before the event, when Myles posted it on her Instagram. I said, Shit! I have to go see her! I have to!

In the morning, I bought a ticket, and in the evening I went to the Nourse Theater to see Eileen Myles. I had a front row seat. On the right side section (facing the stage). I sat in the first seat, next to the inside aisle. Afterward, I bought her book of poems, Evolution. Stood in line to have her sign it. It was positively surreal for me. There she was: Eileen Myles. In person. In front of me.

When Myles was a young, New York poet, Gingsberg attended her reading. Her first poetry book launch, if I remember correctly. He was there. Gingsberg. Allen Gingsberg. She’s always been, it seems to me, in the right place at the right time. Robert Mapplethorpe photographed her. That portrait is on the cover of her novel, Chelsea Girls. (At least, the 2015 edition, which I read.) I mean, a 24 year old chick from Boston moves to New York in 1974 to be a poet, and crosses paths with a famous poet and a famous photographer. Now she is famous. Well, celebrity poet famous. (I only learned of her in February 2018. Which means her fame continues to expand.) Actually, Gingsberg and Mapplethorpe were more famous in their day. That is to say, known in/by the mainstream, at times making the evening news. I guess Myles is mostly known by poets, writers (established or not), creative writing and English teachers/professors, Hollyweird celebs, and, I suppose, lesbians interested in lesbian literature/poetry. I had seen her name on lit sites, but I never looked her up. Until I saw an article about her in The Guardian. That peaked my interest. Now, I’m a fan. Jane-come-late Estela.

She went through tough times, starting out, had some “wild” times (booze, drugs, sex), and worked hard to get to where she’s at. I guess all her thoughts and emotions got her there, where ever she was, and where she is now.

She’s also a photographer. Exhibits her work. I very much like her photos. She has a good eye. It’s a poetic eye. Unlike Patti Smith. IMO, P.S’s photos are shit. But being famous, she can exhibit. I just read Smith’s Devotion: Why I write. I hate it. IMO, it sucks. It’s horrible. Once upon a time, Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not Patti’s. She was an American artist, and she had no guilt. The rebel I idolized. She seems 180 degrees from that now. Even the title, Devotion, strikes me as so fucking pious. Sanctimonious. Ugh! My obsession with her has disintegrated. My admiration pulverized. Not to mention, her connection to Robert Mapplethorpe. He was a genius photographer. No doubt. But he was also a narcissistic jerk. (My opinion after watching a Mapplethorpe documentary.) That is the man she loved/loves? (First romantically, then Platonically.) IDK. It just bothers me.

After becoming aware of Eileen Myles, I’m like, shit, Eileen Myles is a better poet role model than Emily Dickinson. Except, Myles and I are the same age. So, you know, it’s too effing late. To begin, I mean. I just have to keep going, but I have to get out of my room, so-to-speak. More often, anyway. But, I gotta say, Dickinson is the superior poet. The Queen. The Empress. Sits next to Shakespeare. In Poet’s Heaven.

Myles wanted to be famous. I never dreamed about being a “celebrity poet.” Never crossed my mind. BUT, I have dreamed of my poetry living beyond me. Dreamed of my verse being alive. You know?

I read at Lit Crawl and Lit Quake last year. I’d say my thoughts and emotions got me there. Cuz I’ve thought about it and desired it for several years. I guess the stars finally aligned.

Thoughts and emotions have something to do with what you attract into your life. I guess. But there’s also luck. Surely. Was watching Micheal Bublé being interviewed on tv recently. He said he attributed his success to luck. The interviewer thinks he’s being modest, reminds him he’s “got a set of pipes.” He says, “Yeah, but so do all those American Idol singers.”

Yeah. It is. It’s luck. I hope luck kisses me. I’m putting my thoughts and emotions into that. Just in case. You know?

♥                           ♥                                 ♥                            ♥

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Art is a Gamble

Easel at the window of blue building.

Easel at the window on 24th Street, Mission District, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Estela.

Art is a gamble. Maybe you have talent, maybe even genius, but maybe no one sees it. I mean, look at Emily Dickinson. “Ya got sup’m,” Higginson said, “but’cha ain’t ret yet.” Well, words to that effect.

Or, you might be delusional. Ever watch those talent shows on tv? (I watch SYTYCD and RuPaul’s Drag Race.) When folks audition, some of them believe they have talent, when they clearly don’t have a lick. Or it isn’t up to par. When the judges tell them no dice, they’re bewildered, crushed. Some walk off cursing, claim the judges don’t know what ef they’re talking about.

Then there’s market forces. In Inferno, by Eileen Myles, regarding poetry readings, she writes, “There are many kinds of fakery, and some are successful.”

I re-watched Cutie and the Boxer. (It’s still on Netflix.) Pollack splashed paint on a canvas. Ushio Shinohara paints by punching a canvas with boxing gloves. In the documentary, Ushio is 80, and finacially just getting by, with his wife, also an artist. I think it’s a moving story, not only about Ushio, but his wife, Noriko. These are artists in the purest sense of the word. They live for art, and nothing else. It’s an idealistic way to live. Common sense should tell you that it’s risky, if not foolish. Especially, I think, if you’re avant-garde.

The market forces went against Ushio. And Noriko, as woman–wife and mother–had an added disadvantage, having to take care of her family. I don’t know what follows after this film, but I hope it helped gain them some financial relief, and more recognition for their work. (Their son is also an artist. There’s a lot to say about this family of artists, and their dysfunctions. But that’s a different subject.)

Toward the end of the film, Ushio says:

“Art is a demon. A demon that drags you along. It’s not something you stop, even if you should. Maybe you go insane… You throw yourself away to be an artist.”

Once you are a celebrity, anything goes. So, it seems to me. As much as I’m a fan of Eileen Myles, if I wrote like she does, I’d be told I couldn’t write. I think she’s a little messy. And her grammar is sometimes off. But that’s her style, I guess.

R. Crumb, the comic illustrator/artist, says of Warhol:

“He had a clever little schtick, but again, highly overrated, as far as I’m concerned…One of his lame-ass silk screen prints goes for more money than some original renaissance art.”

I feel the same way about Basquiat. One of his paintings sold for over 8 mil, a couple or so years ago. He was in the right place at the right time. I’ve heard it questioned: Was he exploited, or did he exploit? IMO, it was both. From everything I’ve read, saw in the documentary, and  the biopic, he never said he wanted to be a great artist; he said he wanted to be famous. He succeeded at that. Wasn’t even 28 when he bit.

Market forces. And opinion. And, of course, luck.

Van Gogh didn’t sell more than a painting or two in his lifetime. He used to give his work away. Which infuriated his brother, who supported him, gave him money for his art supplies. Van Gogh painted because it’s all he really could do. He failed at everything else. He didn’t fit into the “real world.” He was a misfit. As was Dickinson.

I agree with Ushio Shinohara: art is a demon. You can’t let it go. Even when you know you should. Just get a job, man. But maybe you don’t fit in the “real world.” For whatever reason. So, art is also a saving grace. As it was for Dickinson. As it was for Van Gogh. Sometimes it’s all you got. Personally, I’m not sure what I think of Ushio’s art. That’s a whole other matter.

“Being an artist,” Hubert Selby said, “doesn’t take much, just everything you got.”

Art is a gamble. But if you feel it, you gotta do it. Do it. Do it. It’s a beautiful life, even when it’s rough.

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Poverty

I was eighteen. Watched a tv report on President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The only image

Frida Kahlo cardboard cutout in front of gift shop.

Frida Kahlo cardboard cutout in front of gift shop, or whatever that is. Kind of New Agey stuff in there too.

that sticks in my mind is of a rural white woman with small children. Three or four. A social worker asked what would the children have for lunch. “Gravy,” the mother said, spooned a white substance into bowls for her children. What was for dinner, the social worker asked. “Gravy,” the woman said. And what was breakfast?

Stupid questions. Or else rhetorical. Just get it on record. Some people didn’t/don’t have three meals a day. When hunger becomes too intense, they scrounge. “Let’s see. Flour. Salt. Lard. I’ll make gravy.” With water, not milk. Shit. If they’re lucky to have flour, or anything else. In ’68, this woman had a roof over her head. A raggedy one, but a roof.

Johnson was concerned about hunger in America. In those years, the president wanted to make it possible for economically disadvantaged high school graduates to go to college. There were grant programs. I guess loans too. But plenty of grants. (I didn’t go to college till much later.)

Then came Reagan. And it’s been downhill ever since. Even the Dems are like Repubs. I’ve never seen so many homeless people. Ever. Except in pictures of the Great Depression. It’s as if the Depression returned, and gelled.

In the fifties, minimum wage was a livable wage. A very modest living, but a living. But now, minimum wage is merely survival. Not livable, but survival. You might live in an SRO, a whole family, in a hotel converted into a single room occupancy. A whole family! Or maybe live in a car, or a tent. Or a camp under an overpass. So I gather, from what I read. Even adjunct professors, like the one in San Jose, who was interviewed for an article on poverty, who lives in a car with her disabled husband. Can’t afford rent.

College costs more than ever. And they hire adjuncts. Part-timers. They have no benefits. Poverty wages. Chancellors are paid in the millions. The tenured and full-timers look down their noses at adjuncts. Those positions used to be grad student assignments. I remember when grad students went on strike, in the early 90’s, at Berkeley, demanding benefits, better pay, better treatment. I saw J, a post-grad I knew, waving his fist in the air, and shouting, “Yeah!” as cars passing by honked in support. He was job seeking last I spoke to him. Years ago. I presume he’s a tenured English professor somewhere now. He was brilliant and handsome. I had a secret crush on him.

They should cap maximum wage. Geezus, rich is rich. The uber rich will still have more money the average Joe Blow, let alone minimum wagers. But, no, they want it all. What sort of heartless shit is that? Well, yeah. Heartless. Arrogant. Greedy. Corrupted. Soulless.

Nothing poetic about it.

I’m all for social democracy. Not socialism. Not communism. But social programs, in a capitalist society. Pure capitalism is as bad as pure socialism. IMO. From what I observe. We need public schools. Public assistance for those in need. (Shit, financial institutions get it. Mega corporations get bail outs with our tax money. That’s Welfare.) Public transportation. Public spaces. Public lands. And a livable wage. Not survival, but livable. As in the fifties. Public schools had cafeterias, where food was prepared daily, not packaged or frozen junk. Frozen pizza? Please. We didn’t buy our school supplies when I was a kid. Schools provided pencils, pen, paper. At least, in grammar school. Through sixth grade, as I recall.

The late sixties, early seventies. The cultural revolutions. There was promise. Even change. I was a fool. I believed. (Well, “we.” I wasn’t the only one.)

I didn’t participate in all that 60’s and 70’s action. I was a married. “Buried” from age sixteen to thirty. (Had to leave a messy home life. Mother. Father. Drama. So much unhealthy drama.)

Divorced at thirty. 1980. It’s a miracle all I did, really. Clueless. On my own. Full of phobias not yet identified. Mid-eighties (my mid-thirties), I transferred to the University. Early oughts, (fifty) I “crashed.” All the psycho-damage. And then the meno-change. Whoo. Rough years, man. Rough years.

And all I wanted, goddmanit, was to be a poet.

Poverty is easier than ever. You can work and still  live in poverty. You can have a middle class life, and then, bam! homeless. How the hell can it be legal to double a person’s rent? DOUBLE! Or kick ’em out so you can rent to higher paying renters!

I have a poetry reading in October. I should’ve been doing this forty-five years ago. But my life didn’t go that way.

This is my life. I’m lucky I don’t live in an SRO, or a tent, or a car, or under an overpass. Shit. At the very least.

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Social Anxiety

Dark bedroom, early morning light through curtains.

6:09 a.m. Early morning light. Summer soon.

I cracked a fortune cookie, pulled out the little strip of paper, popped a piece of cookie in my mouth, and while I munched on it, read my fortune. (They don’t seem to have fortunes anymore, really. Just an adage, which we might perceive as a cosmic clue. I mean, it’s only meant as entertainment. But, you know…) It read, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.”

Yes. I know this. I know this. It was a reminder. Because I forget.

Fortune cookie strip says, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought."

Fortune cookie strips I tape along my bedroom doorframe.

I stopped to think what thoughts I have that bring me to this place where I am dissatisfied.

Emily Dickinson had social anxiety. She locked herself in her room. As a kid in sixth grade, I thought that was a beautiful life. Never leaving your room, surrounded by books, reading and writing poetry.

Years later, my high school friend freaked out when I told her that. “That’s crazy,” she shouted.

Well, I wouldn’t use the word “crazy.” Unfortunate, I’d say. Agoraphobia, social anxiety and the unconscious excuses one makes to shut doors to opportunities.

Dickinson wrote poetry like no one else. I wonder, if she didn’t have social anxiety, if she weren’t agoraphobic (which I’m presuming was the case), would she still write like she did? Or would her poetry be different?

A therapist and I once talked about how some people are convinced that they are something they aren’t, and that we can see that, but others don’t. She said they just convince people that they are what they think they are. I’m not talking about pathological liars. Just people who think they are more than what they are, and it serves them well.

Then there are those who think they are less than what they are. And they convince people of that too. Certainly doesn’t serve them well.

Social anxiety. Agoraphobia. Panic attacks. Fear of being seen.

The first step, is to know what you’re working with. Catch the thoughts so you’ll know what they are. Then you can deal with them. Change them.

I’m thinking of writers I have read, or writers I’ve met. They are successful. But, damn it, their writing isn’t really all that.

Well, there’s also luck. Luck hasn’t exactly been friendly to me. But that’s no excuse. I hide behind my fears. That’s why I’m dissatisfied. It’s on me. That’s what the fortune cookie told me. “Change your thoughts, Estela.”

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Writer’s Block

Inner Peace and Beauty graphic.

“Inner Peace and Beauty,” graphic by Estela

She said, “I’ve heard people say they have writer’s block. I don’t know what that is. I don’t have any trouble writing. I don’t even believe in writer’s block. There’s no such a thing.” That was twenty-nine years ago. I knew her ego was too big to prevent her from writing her simplistic shit. The sad truth is, there is an audience for simplistic shit. She is famous now.

Sometimes I get mad at the world for being cruelly unfair.

I just read Tao Lin’s latest book. I find him interesting, but he also annoys me. Seems rather full of himself. And what can be said of someone who worships a pseudo-guru, pseudo-shaman, pseudo-philosopher, who pushed the use of psychedelics. (I don’t care that you try them, use them, like them, love them. That’s your prerogative. Just don’t call it spirituality if you use them 24/7. And don’t push them. Pusherman. The pusher, man.) He’s robotic. Says he never felt awe until he took, I forget, LSD, or shrooms, or something. That is sad. (Robots don’t feel anything.) He should try psychotherapy, instead of psychotropics. IMO, he’s not “expanding his mind,” he’s warping it. IDK. It’s his prerogative, IG. IDGAF. Just don’t push ’em, man.

At first I found it inspiring to hear him say, “There’s no good art, or bad art.” But the truth is–he’s wrong. There is good art and bad art. But the question is: who gets to call it? If you enjoy it, do it. If you can sell it, sell it. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s junk, it’s junk. Great works of art worth millions have been found at thrift shops and flea markets, or stored in a basement or garage, dusty and mildewed, sold for chump change. Junk has sold because people believed it was art. They liked it. Ever see Exit Through the Gift Shop? It’s all about what people believe.

Hell. I forget to stay positive. I forget. I slip into brooding and self-pity. I hate myself for it. Then I hate myself for hating myself. It’s a nasty spiral.

I recently read The Last Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski. Some of the poems feel to me like rough drafts, as if he were reaching for something but couldn’t quite get there. And some are amazing. I love Dinosauria, We. The Last Night…Poems was first published in 1992, two years before Bukowski kicked it. DW is pure genius. Prophetic. What he writes about in that poem is in process. He saw it then, and more people are seeing it now. Not enough, I’m afraid. I just don’t think enough people get it. If they did, neither Trump nor Clinton would have been the choices in the last election. “The masses elevate fools into rich heroes.” (And I don’t know that there is anyone. They might be out there, but I am not aware of them. Bernie? Lizzie? IDK.) We do really live in a dystopia. If you don’t see it, you are lucky. Ignorance is bliss. Until the shit smacks you in the face.

Anyway, with some of these poems I was reading, I felt that Bukowski struggled to write. And then I come upon a poem where he says just that. He had always said writing was easy. But toward the end of his life, he struggled. He had writer’s block. “THE GREAT BUKOWSKI”  had writer’s block. He was ill. Diagnosed with leukemia. He writes about writing, writers, the process of it, the state of it, his impending death, literature, life, absurdities, reflects on his past, worries about his wife after he’s gone. He complains in one poem that all he does is write the same thing. He feels confident here, then slips, dips into self-doubt over there.

(I love Bukowski. The writer, not the man. Get that straight. And if you have to ask, “What’s the difference?” FO. I don’t have time for that shit. Another of my favorite poems is The Genius of the Crowd. ((This and Dinosauria, We are on YouTube. Check ’em out.)) His poem The Laughing Heart reminds me to keep going. I read it like a prayer.)

Writer’s block goes deep. It’s a psychological struggle. A narcissist like her wouldn’t know shit about that.

I wrote ten poems last month. I have a file I labeled “Post-Myles Poems.” I have never written more than one or two poems in a month. But I felt something open up in me after reading Eileen Myles. I finished one yesterday. That one took me over a month to finally “get there.” It started somewhere else, though. I meant for it to end up over there, but it ended up over here. I like it though. I like it very much. It’s called Pancakes.

I have given up on open mic. I attended one in particular for a good three years. But the fun fizzled. And it got to feeling like “promiscuity.” Not to mention that mediocrity prevails, and the amazing poets, real poets, are few and far between. Alone, writing or reading or drawing, or watching a favorite tv program (yay, it’s time for So You Think You Can Dance), which are few, or something on Netflix (often hardly much, but sometimes something), or something on PBS is more worth my time than listening to mind-numbing mediocrity. Gregory Corso rolls over in his grave and groans, “Where’s the blood?”

I was a featured reader last April with three other people. The bookstore reading curator was so impressed with us, she invited us to read at the October 2018 Litquake. I’m really looking forward to that.

Every writer, every artist, has her or his or their own journey. Don’t compare yourself to others. (I say this to myself.)

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