2020 poetry challenge days 2 & 3

I just didn’t have time make time yesterday to check in on my poetry challenge, so today’s post includes two poems.

Day 2

Thursday’s form was the novem, which is a tercet with three words per line. Each line requires two monosyllabic words and one disyllabic word for a total of four syllables.

One of the things I love about forms is that they force me into structure. Free verse is fun and “easy,” but following patterns and rules makes for an delightful challenge — at least in poetry! Now, further complicating this poetic structure is guidance for where the 2-syllable word goes within the stanza:

  • In the first line, it is the last word.
  • In the middle line (line 2) the middle word.
  • In line three, the first word.

The final kicker is that each stanza needs to repeat one of the consonant sounds four times, minimum.

I wanted to write something all serious and strong (something about rules feels serious and strong) but because I’m behind, I wrote the first thing that came to mind.

Novem 1

Let me number
all endings
grateful for you

You can see I didn’t go beyond one stanza, and I do not have the four repeating consonant sounds. This was a tricky one! I find that when I write a villanelle or ghazal I need to spend some time thinking about the rules before I can come up with an idea that fits within the structure; seems that’s the case with this form too.  I’d like to come back to this structure at some point and play around with it when I’ve come up with an idea that “feels right” for it.

Day 3

Today was “free verse Friday,” and our prompt was “broken light bulbs.”

I’ve had this annoying wisp of a scratch in my throat all day, and the prompt gave me some room to put it into words.

For every idea
flashing bright
atop my head
in my throat
sharp shards
of broken glass

With the prompt and the real-life circumstance of the scratchy throat, this one was easy to write. Is it inspiring? No. But not every day will yield a gem, a form to play with or even an idea to further refine. And that’s OK. At least I’m writing!

If you are participating in a #NationalPoetryMonth challenge of some sort, how is your work going?

Poetry challenge 2020 – day 1

Finally! April is here and the Facebook poetry challenge I participate in each year is back on. It’s called Poetry Fun time (search for it if you want to join us!), and each day the group organizer posts a writing prompt and a form to follow. Sometimes the form is just free verse, and poets can always choose to follow both the prompt and form or one or the other.

The organizer often uses forms from Robert Lee Brewer and Writer’s Digest to guide our scribbling. Today’s form is the tricube. The prompt was “sunrise.”  I’ve had this idea for a poem kicking around in my head for a few days, so I ignored the sunrise prompt and put the idea into tricube form.

Magnificent leader

He wanted
to be God
so he chose

what to say
about death
and to whom

The streets
are full of
his silence

It’s National Poetry Month, and this group is a wonderful way for me to generate at least a few new poems during the month. Even if they suck, I’m still writing!

If Facebook isn’t your thing, Writer’s Digest run its own Poem a Day Challenge, drawing on Brewer for prompts.

Remembering Terri Schiavo

Small lights illuminate a star.

Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

A brain goes rogue

on December 26, 2004, I experienced a major brain bleed that sent me into a coma and brain surgery. Up until that event, I had been a totally healthy 22-year-old. And then POP, just like that, what I knew of health and normal and independence vanished. Waking up was a two-day process after brain surgery. When I finally had my wits about me, I learned that I’d experienced a stroke, I couldn’t walk and might never live on my own again.

It would take another day for me to get up and test my legs — they worked— and months before I could drive again.  But I did it. In early 2005, I returned to some semblance of a normal life.

At the same time that I was gaining a sense of balance, both physical and metaphorical, another young woman was dealing with her own cerebrovascular event. In 1990, Terri Schiavo, then 26, had a heart attack and collapsed. The loss of oxygen to her brain sent her into a “persistent vegetative state.” For years, her husband, Micheal, had rallied against her parents, insisting that Terri would not want to live in such a state. Her Catholic parents said she was still a human, still their daughter, and they fought his attempts to end her life.

At just 22 when my brain went rogue, I was horrified by Terri’s situation. I watched news updates from my  parents’ couch, torn between siding with  Terri’s parents and her husband.

If it were me, what would I want?

Decisions

In those first days of recovery, before I could drive again, and thus before my independence was re-granted, I decided that I would have wanted to die.

“If I stroke out again,” I’d tell my dad, “you better let me die.”

He’d nod, knowingly. That’s what he wanted for himself, too.  I didn’t talk about it with my very Catholic mom, who I knew viewed every life as sacred, and would do anything in her power to keep me alive. As time went on and follow-up visits persisted, with each new care provider I saw, I would be given paperwork for an advance directive.

“It’s not a bad idea to state what you’d like done in the event of another emergency,” they’d say, handing me the folder. I’d carry it home to throw away, not wanting to think about such heavy decisions.

For the 14 years that Terri had been caught between her parents and her husband’s decisions,  the court in her state of Florida sided with her husband. But in 2005, President George W. Bush signed legislation that allowed Federal courts to have a say. Terri’s feeding tube, the thing keeping her alive, came out.

On March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo’s decades’ long ordeal was over.

Today

Today marks the 15 year anniversary of  Terri’s death, and I have been thinking about her off and on all day, as I do every year. I didn’t know her and didn’t know of her until my own medical crisis brought hers into my world. But in the past 15 years, her legacy has continued to orbit in my mind.

When I finally returned to life on my own in May of 2005, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since before my stroke.

“Mars,” he shouted from across the packed bar I had entered with a friend. “Shit, I can’t believe you’re here. I heard you’d been Terri Schiavo’d or something.”

I assured him that I hadn’t and sent a heart call out to Terri, feeling connected to her despite our differences. I’m so sorry you died, and I lived.

When I moved to Chicago fifteen months later and began volunteering on the stroke and traumatic brain injury floor at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab), I felt Terri’s presence as I talked, or walked, or sat with patients recovering from their own traumas.

When I studied the therapeutic power of writing during grad school, I felt her presence when researching and writing about disability.

And in my current life and work, I think of Terri every time I write about advance directives, difficult conversations and life support paperwork. I do some writing for a company that has designed a web platform and coach system to help caregivers navigate responsibilities in their role of caring for an adult loved one, so these topics come up a lot.

And outside of my own  bubble, I see a raging debate about who should get care during this time of COVID-19, how those decisions are made and what it does to those who are actually making decisions.

On this anniversary of her death, I think of Terri not as someone who died stripped of dignity, but as someone who we should all think about on occasion. We should all have in place our desires for our own end of life so that no matter how it comes or when, we’re able to have a say in what we want.

Love and light to you, Terri.

 

The beautiful imperfect

close up photo of peeled orange

Photo by Robin Kumar Biswal on Pexels.com

Another one from Chicago. Circa 2009, I think. #ThrowbackThursday

The man comes into the co-op singing a song and talking to himself. He wears crisp orange pants and a fitted jacket that matches. There is a slice of lemon shirt peeking out between the folds of chest and stomach, and all he needs is a top hat to perform in a three-ring circus.  But he’s not a performer; he’s just part of the neighborhood.

As he saunters about the store, the man tells my co-workers that he’s a scientist, that he “deals in the rainbow,” and they laugh. The co-op is host to all sorts of zany life forms: pluots, seitan, people; and we too, deal in the rainbow, if you can look at fruits and vegetables and see the sun and the rain that such a spectrum needs.

This man makes me think of peaches, their strange, fuzzy warmness, or maybe nectarines, and the way sunlight is banded on their skin and glowing in their flesh.

He goes through the crate of apricots, and we could lose one to his sleeve — not because he’s that kind of shyster, but because the match of pigment is just too perfect to catch. He could hold the fruit up next to his body, and as if shrouded in a cloak of invisibility, it would be gone before we’d  ever see it leave.

But he doesn’t snag the apricots, small as silver dollars, and worth a little more, nor does he contemplate the midnight darkness of the bin blackened with ripe plums. These delicate, bruise-beautiful orbs held our attention all summer with their cleavage.  And why not? It the perfect hiding place for soft, green mold, for delicious juices to catch.

We have no air conditioning where I work, and when days and nights and then days again pass before these fruit are sold, we cup them gently in our hands, examine each unique crease for the liquid seepage that becomes home to spores. We do this with all the produce, hold its individuality in our hands, digest the difference in the colors from one delivery to another. This scrutiny is like getting to know someone intimately, seeing the wax-paper crinkles of passing seasons line a face you have come to love.

And then, before you know it, the moment is gone. The apricot is out the door with the orange sleeve; the summer sun is set and gone behind trees throwing flames of leaves. The passing of the days and the fruits and the seasons is so beautifully imperfect, and so fast we miss it if we’re not paying attention.

Finding a flow

Maple trees tapped with hoses to collect sap for makingmaple syrup.

Are you struggling with social distancing or staying put in one place? Is it hard for you to feel connected these days? This might seem crazy, but my life as a work-from-farm educator has taught me one thing, the same thing, about how to get through this.

You need to find your flow. Yep.

As I collected maple sap this morning, I thought about all that has happened in the year since I last did this. My son has started walking, talking and terrorizing the dogs. The farm has gone through its blossom and bust cycle of seeing new green shoots pop from the ground and then months later, explode with seeds. My partner and I added a new home preservation item to our pantry (the maple syrup). My creative writing workshop students have congratulated each other on “finding a better flow” in their papers in every class, in every term.

This all seems like a lot, and not much at all.  But when I think about it all, the metaphors strike me.

Cedar has learned to put one step in front of the other, and now he runs all over. The weeds and flowers and intentional crops came up, lived there lives and then generated new seeds to further their lineage for the following year. Sean and I harvested, consumed and ran out of sap/syrup. And sap is now running, once again. I am working to find my own “flow” as a busy human and a writer.  Even though there has been a lot of chaos and randomness in the last 366 days (heyo, leap year), there have been so many patterns.

It’s not easy to find peace and balance in the midst of a storm because we’re caught up in the swirl of energy. Yet what I sensed while gathering jugs of sap and reflecting on my past year is that any pattern we can create for ourselves right now will be one more tool for getting us through whatever the next 365 days look like.

I’ve seen lots of calendars about  snack patterns,  meal charts, homework or work-from-home setups, and most of them are jokes, memes. I think the humor is great, and it’s another thing that is keeping me smiling. I’m sure I’m late to the game and several articles exist on the importance of establishing a schedule during chaotic times, but I really think that putting together some sort of routine would be helpful for me. It would:

  • provide (at least the illusion of) control over the day
  • create something to look forward to
  • establish clear breaks in the day and clear days
  • lead to a sense of accomplishment

I’ve been working from home for the last three years, and although I miss my friends from the office more than anything else about the office, I’ve recognized in this time that not having a schedule is both freeing and damning. Even though  my schedule now is loose,with a toddler on hand it’s definitely got some structure I can’t avoid.

So no matter what your daily structure might like, shoot for something. If you fail, try again. That could be a way to get through the days.

We can’t control what’s going on with our neighbors or city officials or national government, and we definitely have no control over the virus instilling all this fear. But just like the dandelions or all the babies that will learn to walk over the next few months, we can prepare for the future and look forward to it by following whatever cycles we can in our present lives.

Don’t be a sponge

loki couch

Loki the dog is great at getting stuck in couch potato mode.

In my work as a freelance writer and editor, I’m currently engaged in a project designed to help unpaid caregivers find more time for themselves and make it easier to do the extra work they do in caring for a loved one. Free time is valuable and hard to come by for so many of us, but for working caregivers who deal with concerns for their loved ones while at work and then again when the return home,  it’s an even more fleeting thing.

As I recently reviewed caregiver news online, I stumbled across this article in Stria, “a media platform for the longevity market.” The piece explores data that shows how interdependence develops between older married/partnered couples. It was interesting to me from a working perspective; maybe it’s something I can do some more research on and write about later, I thought. But as I read, the findings struck me as something that’s applicable to me, now.

“We all know couples that are joined-at-the-hip couch potatoes, enjoying nothing more than streaming a hit show while sharing a loaded pizza,” writes author Kevyn Burger. “Equally familiar are the couples who regularly hit the gym together, then treat themselves by splitting a post-workout protein shake.”

I cringed a bit when I read that.

My TV-loving partner is not responsible for my decisions to sit with him and get sucked onto something terrible like Younger or 9-1-1, and yet…I find myself doing this more often than I’d like over the winter. I could be reading, working out or visiting a friend. Instead… I’m couch-potatoing it. I’ve been mad at myself for doing this in the past, but when I read this article and gained confirmation that negative behaviors like this can have a particular bad psychological effect  as one ages (not to mention the extra physical effects of weight gain, in my case) I felt called to action.

The article notes that researchers are finding that this sponge-like tendency can lead to chronic issues in the future, and cites Courtney Polenick, assistant professor of psychiatry and faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“We need to look at the broader picture and gather information about what each person is managing and also what couples jointly manage,” she is quoted as saying. “This study looks at the impact of chronic conditions across a long time frame. We need additional research about how spouses interact to help one another and how couples jointly manage multiple chronic conditions at a daily level.”

Winter is almost over, I hope, and at the very least we have longer days now. When the dogs, the couch, the blankets and the TV beckon, I’ve been working hard to remind myself that there are other things I could be doing to more purposefully engage my brain and my body.  I have yet to use that time for the treadmill, but I am making my way though a few physical books — and I’ve been writing more!

What are you doing to stay healthy, independent and still connected to your partner?

 

Could this disruption be a win?

Earlier this week, Southern New Hampshire University published an article by Dr. Gregory Fowler,  global campus president for SNHU. I always admire Dr. Fowler’s thoughts on disruption, innovation and education, and this piece stood out to me not just as an educator but as a freelance writer as well.

I see that higher education has changed in the 20 years (yikes, really?!) since I took my first college class, and I see that it has changed even more in the nearly 10 years that I’ve been on the other side of the classroom. Technology, the game changer here, has also become a game changer in the work that my BA prepared me for: journalism.

We see newspapers crumbling, TV news roaring ahead at insane and harmful paces, and we even see sites like Reddit becoming sources and guides for journos working on story ideas. Technology has changed how the world works, or at least how the developed world works, and these times (#Coronavirus) are giving everyone a chance to see how tech can help them do their jobs — like it or not.

A few days ago, I said I felt a bit smug about the security of my professional world being a digital one. That was probably a crappy way to word things, but it was true. I felt good about my work life amid the instant changes others were dealing with. Yet at the same time, I know that even the online world is in for a series of real disruptions over the next few months. It’s not just the education sector that is feeling rattled; offices that can are now put in the position of granting work-from-home status to employees despite years of saying no to such things. I’m happy to see this happen; in fact, I left my last desk job because I could not work from home, although my job required that I sit at a computer all day…which I could do at home.

As the world around us shifts in a new way during what is for many the first week of working from home, I’m curious to see just how much it will impact the ways business as usual moves forward. Will the meme I saw last week prove true? I don’t remember the image, but the caption said something like “Working from home/Time to see just how many of those meetings could have been emails.”

I don’t want to wish cabin fever and the confines of social distancing on anyone in a bad way, but what if this disruption could ultimately get more people IN school, as more schools put in place eLearning structures? What if it could get more people OUT of the office while still working?

 

Moving online a bigger shock than COVID-19

neon signage

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

I’m a bit ashamed say it, but as an online educator, I’ve been feeling a little smug this week.

I’m not scrambling to convert classes or learn new software, and I’m not worried about the future of higher education as I know it–well, at least not because of  coronavirus pandemic shifts. I’m not faced with high attrition rates because my students don’t know how to use new software, or don’t have data or space in which to use it.

I’m smug because although people I know are still poo-pooing online education as a “real” means of education, these same people are being forced to give it a shot. Ideally, they’d have a much smoother, more welcoming introduction to teaching online, like I did, eight years ago. It would certainly make them bigger proponents of the method. There will a lot of cracks for them and their students to fall through with this instant setup.

But all that aside, instead of basking too much in my “ease” of academic life, I’ve been trying to learn from this disruption. My newsfeeds are full of articles, tips sheets and suggestions.

This article, from Inside Higher Ed offers “practical advice” for temporarily teaching online. There are good points in it, by my favorite, as a seasoned online instructor, are:

Create a class communication plan so students know where to go and what to expect; address questions like:

  • Where to send questions
  • How quickly will you respond to emails; how quickly will you respond to discussion posts
  • How to reach you with any urgent needs or questions
  • What sort of regular communications you will send out to the class (e.g. weekly reviews and/or updates)

I like these points because students need some stability amid this shift, and telling them what they can expect from their instructor is ALWAYS a good policy. It’s even more important online, where they don’t get to connect physically.

Another piece, this one from The Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that

Shock doctrines make emergencies the new normal — they turn temporary exertions into permanent expectations. American higher education has already endured several slow-moving disasters over the past 40 years: the radical defunding of public institutions, the casualization of academic labor, the militarization of campus security, and the erosion of faculty governance. As a result, the very instructors now tasked with the herculean transition are already working in extreme conditions: Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of college and university teaching is performed by non-tenure-track faculty members or by graduate students, many of whom conduct heavy course loads without health insurance and with suppressed wages, housing insecurity, and stifling debt.

In essence, the problem is that instructors are being asked to turn their classes into virtual classes in a split second (compared to how long it takes to truly prep a class), and they are already overburdened. When asked to do this, and then doing it becomes acceptable, what else will universities ask of these folks?

The answer, in part, lies in this third piece, from Rebecca Barrett-Fox. As a writing coach, teacher and researcher, Barrett-Fox seems to have a lot of irons in the fire. We all do, I get it. I just appreciate that she’s not just in academe.

Her points 2, 3 and 14 are the best balancing act I’ve seen thus far:

2. Do not require synchronous work. Students should not need to show up at a specific time for anything. REFUSE to do any synchronous work.

3. Do not record lectures unless you need to. (This is fundamentally different from designing an online course, where recorded information is, I think, really important.) They will be a low priority for students, and they take up a lot of resources on your end and on theirs. You have already built a rapport with them, and they don’t need to hear your voice to remember that.

14. Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.

Barrett-Fox offer practical advice that is geared toward sanely navigating this moment/semester as an instructor, but she’s put some thought into how that will spill over and help students, too.

After all, anyone who teaches, who puts in the hours, the research and the organization–virtually or in-person–does so because it’s something they enjoy, and they want their students to get something out of it too. This is a key thing to remember as universities fret over what this might mean for their bottom lines. Now is not the time to worry about that. Students, staff and faculty should come first.

I’m continuing to learn from my peers as they/we muddle through what it means to teach in 2020, but right now, I’m also feeling extremely lucky that my creative writing students and I can just hang out and do our thing. This week they’re working on scene and setting, and they’ve read “High in Hell,” which does such a great job of bringing the African country Djibouti to life though scene and setting. I’d like to say everyone should read this piece of literary journalism to understand just how lucky we here in the US are, lucky to have tech disruptions and tech and any resources at all.

Hungry, hungry hoboes

photo of railway track

Photo by Zhanzat Mamytova on Pexels.com

The floor and my laptop meet in a crushing embrace a few weeks ago, so I’ve been pulling old stuff off of it. It’s Thursday, and I thought, “what the hell, I’ll do a #ThrowbackThursday post. This piece is from 2008.

***

The kids talk to me before I talk to them.

“Her name is Jazz,” says the one in a faded purple shirt, right after the white puppy trots after me. She’s got a bandana around her neck and a brown spot over her left eye, and when she hears her name, her forehead wrinkles into a story of puppy love and recognition.

The boy who speaks her name is slouched against an old building in Uptown, the one right around the corner from the Lawrence ‘L’ stop. Without shoes, his feet are cut and dirty, blackened like tar on the bottom. I saw them as I came around the corner onto Broadway, noticing the sign before the sprawl of legs and cardboard cushions.

“Hungry, Hungry Hobos,” crawls across the back of a notebook, black sharpie on creased yellow paper.

I pause, look at it, but without cash or snacks, I walk on. What can I do?

“She just loves people,” the boy adds as I walk away, and that’s all it takes for me to turn around.

***

 Matt tells me his story as I sit, folding my legs underneath me. He’s a carpenter, he and his woman split a while back, and he misses his tools, god how he misses coming home from work and working the rough grain of knotty wood into the curved lines of chairs  and other art.

At 25, Matt is the oldest of the group, but he has the boyish good looks of Huck Finn, a real-life story in front of me. Hair curled and messy from a week on the road, he is cute, but looks so young, especially when pairing the curls with the rolled up jean bottoms and bare feet.

I talk with Matt about his travels, warming the sidewalk opposite the Green Mill, and for a couple of hours, I watch the world pass by with these dirty children of the road.

They are going to California, going to work in “the fields” and take part in the grand pot harvest that approaches.

“We’re going to make 20 bucks an hour, make some money, man,” says the other boy around a mouthful of bottle.

At 22, Chris has already been out to California for the harvest once before, and this adventure isn’t the first one taking him cross-country on the free ticket found in the back of a freight train.

“I don’t have any work lined up, not yet,” he tells me, pulling thoughtfully on the cigarette his girlfriend   rolled moments before. “But I’ve been out there in the past, and I hope to get some carpentry work too, get in with the locals, you know.”

Jillian nods her head at this idea, nubby brown pigtails bouncing in agreement. She has been silent, plucking absently at a ukulele, but once she joins the conversation, her quick chirp clips along with youthful enthusiasm.

“Have you been out there before?” she asks me, eager to hear my take on it. “I hear it’s supposed to be really great.”

I tell her that I haven’t, but yes, I, too, have heard good things. At 20, Jill is the youngest member on this adventure, and I can see why she’s drawn to Chris.

He wears his scruff in a way that becomes him: a shadow of the road spreading across his face whether he intends it to or not.  He’s tall and lanky, and as she leans into him, his arms wrap around her, white and bare against the gray fabric of her sweater.  I know exactly how she feels, a short little girl taken care of by her tall hippie boy, but I can’t say that I really miss that feeling. Not tonight, not anymore.

But it’s more than this outward physical thing that draws her to him. This too, I know. It’s his life.

Chris has lived. He’s hopped trains before, he’s harvested illegal crops and stories with others in Cali, and because he is all the things that a career in dental hygiene is not, she is enamored and brought to life by this.

I can see it in her face as she calls a friend on her phone and squeals out the story of the day in Chicago. She is young and in love, and I remember what that feels like, at 20.  I remember how my own tall lanky boy made me feel back then, and I remember my most recent “Chris.” I like Jill because her sense of adventure runs deep, and I imagine that’s what Chris likes about her too. He’s teaching her about the world, his world, and she’s eager to hear it all.

When I tell her about my recent trip to Thailand, her eyes open as wide as her mouth, perfect circles of awe and excitement, and I hope that she is as eager to embrace calamity as she sounds, should it befall her on this trip. She has considered at least one possibility—that any of them could be arrested— but she is most afraid of what will happen if the cops take Chris away from her. They almost did that at Union Station today, but when I ask her if they’ve discussed a strategy for that, I see disbelief and fear color her face more than the streetlight illumination from above.

“God, what would I do? We haven’t even talked about it, no.”

She stares down at Jazz for a minute, and then snuggles into Chris’ side, feeling the emptiness of a life on the road without her man.

What would she do?

I would like to think she’d figure it out, maybe late, but better then than never. That’s what I did.

***

Up until Monday, I had planned on going to California, too. Not so much to take part in the harvest, exactly, but to be part of that culture of people who pass the seasons waiting for it like my family waits for the first spring-time sprout of life to color the fields.

A mess since my return to the states from Thailand, three months ago, I had been unhappy in Chicago, ill-at-ease among the skyscrapers and dull sheen of life in the US. Thailand had been too much, too much fun, too much happiness, too much… everything, and life in Chicago had been boring and flat, a watercolor wash of grey day after grey day.

So when I hooked up with a friend in California and he suggested I move out there, first I thought “no, what a terrible idea.” And then as the weeks passed each other with the slow monotony of spring in the Midwest, it sounded better and better, almost perfect. Not because I anticipated any sort of real life out there, but because it wasn’t Chicago, which wasn’t Thailand.

I looked at apartments here, evaded the real world and sought refuge from it in my books and my writing. The night before I found the perfect artists’ loft building, my friend assured me yes, if I went to California, everything would work out. For a few days I even believed it, and then, after posting my few possessions on Craigslist, the reality of the situation came to pass, taking with it the charm and illusion of sandy shores and a life of stoned simplicity in the sun. I put a deposit on a new studio apartment and vowed to work on my craft among the other poor, dirty and disillusioned writers, painters and musicianssharing the building. But my body ached for something else. Something different.

***

What is it about going West that reaches for the American spirit like stalks to the sky? How was this story started, and who perpetuates it to this day, that the American Dream lives in the West? These kids grew up together, friends in Baltimore, East Coast elites gone organic, escaping the hum of existence by hopping trains and sleeping on sidewalks. I wanted to do that once, around the same time I thought living like a broke writer would move me to be the next Nin or Hemingway.

How very ‘beat’ I’d be, I cleverly thought to myself, imagining all of the scenes from a Ginsberg or Kerouac epic in my own bedroom. How very perfect for the storyteller in me, all of those bodies and lives and sorrows crashing against the stable shoreline of my being. It would be the life to end all lives, the adventure and chaos of a life lived to its fullest that I’ve always sought.

And then as quickly and randomly as the idea of attempting a life in California was proposed, the allure of it rubbed off like some dollar-store trinket gone brassy in the setting sun. The dream, or the illusion of the dream imagined by someone else, someone I’m not, fell from the sky.

***

By 1 am Jill, was fighting sleep, and I could see a fight in her shoulders, if the crew didn’t get to going where ever it was that they could sleep safely until morning.

“If my doorman isn’t around, you can stay at my place,” I offered, sparking a flame in Jill’s eyes and a glance upward from Matt, who was buried in his journal, Sharpie in hand. Chris smiled, busy chatting with the homeless and probably schizophrenic man laughing crazily at our feet.

“But with Jazz, the lobby has to be completely empty or else it won’t work,” I continued, hoping the man would go away before we headed to my place. The idea of showers and food had garnered their attention, and I felt bad for bringing it up, knowing that the doorman was probably around.

“I’ll go home and check, then call you if it’ll work.”

My block came up quickly, lit up and alive, even at 1 am. The neighborhood has gentrified, and instead of my own neighborhood schizophrenic, it is my maintenance man, his wife and their baby, I run into at this late hour. We wave, cross paths, and I enter the lobby.

How different our lives are, all of them. That small family of three, neat and tidy at 1 am; me, sweaty and dirty in running gear and puppy tracks offering my home to another family of sorts. Am I crazier than the man laughing outside?

I think of the kids I’ve just met as I pack crackers and fruit and granola bars into a plastic bag. I can’t get them in, not tonight, but if I make it back there before they seek shelter, maybe I can feed them. Maybe I can take care of them in the only way I can at this hour.

***

My train rattles along the track, past Argyle, past Berwyn, back into Bryn Mawr. I get off slowly, letting the drunks stagger warm, boozy circles around me. The night has cooled down, and I wonder where the hobos will sleep tonight, how far their train will take them tomorrow. I wonder if Chris will get caught and separated from his “mamma,” and what Jill will do if he does.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Jill says as we part ways. “So I’ve got to get some tonight. Sleeping on the train is hard, and with Jazz, if I have to hold her… my arms…oh, it’s just so hard.”

I nod my head in agreement, imagining that it is indeed, a challenge. But what do I know of hopping trains and holding sleeping puppies and chasing someone across the country because “that’s what you do for love”?

What do I know of trains and harvests and feet as black as the midnight tar on the street outside?

What I know is Chicago, and my own sense of adventure, my own heart and the things that I love: words and stories, not people, or at least, not just one person. I know the way the right ones seem to find me—words and humans — and that stories make whole my life in a way that  the living of it never does.

What I know is that in another lifetime, I might have hopped a train and rattled off to California to chase some dream and some adventure. But not now. Not tonight. Not anymore.

Instead, I will return to my apartment, sit on my couch, legs once again folded and firm beneath me, and capture the essence of this night, to live on forever in my words.

And yet here I am

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In this blog, I stay away from writing about the farm I live on because I want my writing life to be my writing life. I want my blog to be about education, writing, news, culture…things that interest me.

Yes, the farm interests me, but not in the same way these other things do. Until tonight I hadn’t really put much thought into why I want the farm to be and occupy a separate space. But as I overheard my husband talking with a former hemp colleague, I understood why I want this distance.

The farm is a shared place for us, and a shared interest. I like my multiple gardens, the space we have and the joy our son experiences when he’s outside. But the isolation of farm life, the struggle and uncertainty…these things I don’t like. And although things didn’t feel uncertain on the farm I grew up on, the isolation is one thing I wanted to leave when I left the farm of my childhood at 18. And yet here I am again, living on a farm. 

For those of you finding this blog for the first time, as strangers, the farm I live on is spectacular. Huge 3-story turn-of-the-century house (as pictured above)a Quartz foundation, with frogs and rats and water in the spring.  Eleven acres of fruit trees. A greenhouse. Strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb, currant and asparagus patches. A history that goes back to my husband’s grandfather, making our son the fourth generation to live here. It’s a lovely place to live, and when we moved here, we had huge ambitions.

But last year we grew industrial hemp, and we encountered many issues that prevented us from making any money on it. In fact, we lost money. We lost investor money. We lost partner money. And worse yet, we’re now in litigation over the crop. I’ll write more about that as I’m able; with a court case in the works I’m censoring myself.

That bit of backstory brings me to tonight
A hemp partner on the East Coast told my husband that he’s selling his farm. He went all in on hemp in 2019, and like so many other hemp farmers, it broke him. He has a family to support, and bills to pay, and he has his land.  So he’s going to sell it. I was heartbroken for him for a split second, and angry, too. Angry at hemp, and ag and my own situation. And as I dealt with the twin pains of anger and sorrow, I thought about this farm and how much it takes to just LIVE HERE. I thought about dreams and aspirations and what it means to sacrifice for your dreams. And then I remembered that it was never my dream to return to a farm after I left the one in Nebraska, where I grew up. And yet here I am.

My husband wants me to sell the house I own in town, but I haven’t been willing to do that in the three years we’ve been here, and lately, there’s nothing even remotely inspiring about that idea. What if we too, must sell this farm? Or, what if I simply want off of it, away from the stress and the expense and the isolation? We pushed through two challenging years of getting the land around here cleaned up after years  of neglect, and each winter I feel the bite of wind cut through non-insulated walls, windows and doorjambs. I feel thefarmer depression that some news organizations report on from time to time. And I wonder, is there a better way o do this? What if we just returned this land to land. I don’t mean move off of it; I mean, what if we just lived here, in this house, on this yard, with these trees? What if we didn’t farm at all?

The idea comforts me and gives me something to look forward to. I don’t want to take my husband’s dream away from him, so for now I don’t need to drag him off the farm. But holding on to my dreams of writing and experiencing the culture of a city need to be part of what it means to be out here. I knew this when we moved, but I didn’t think it would be THIS hard.

And so, here I am, writing about the farm.