a voice.

Magic!

Magic!

So, Listen To Your Mother-Wilmington was a huge success. Sold out crowd. Dr. Jill Biden in the audience (I know!). Every cast member delivering their words with heart and confidence.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like myself.

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I was able to tell my truth and express my fears about motherhood and my body without shame or guilt. Menstruation, feminism, breast feeding. I bared it all. It means the world to me that LTYM Director Shoshana Martyniak, Producer Jessica Kupferman, and Associate Producer Jenn Steinberg saw the value in my experience and my words. I am so incredibly inspired by these brilliant women!

I felt supported by the brilliant cast and every single member of the audience. I didn’t know Dr. Biden was in the audience until after I performed, which was probably a good thing because I would have been terrified had I been aware.

Delaware is like a small town: somehow, everyone is connected, and this includes the Bidens. Jill Biden is a friend and former colleague of some cast members (which I also didn’t know until after I performed), and it is lovely and inspiring to see women that continue to support and celebrate each other. Another person I know told me yesterday that Dr. Biden was her teacher and helped her immensely on her path to a successful career. In a time where it seems almost fashionable for women to tear each other down and separate themselves according to class, race and appearance, I am blessed to not just witness solidarity but be a part of it.

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Ethnicity, religious affiliations (or lack thereof), marital status, sexual orientation: none of that mattered. We bonded over our honesty and our experiences, the threads that ran throughout all of our stories, the rawness of our emotions. Backstage, there was talk of mikvah (Jewish ritual bath), politics, science, family life.

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I miss New York every single day, but I am so glad Lover Man and I moved to Delaware. My moments of longing and isolation forced me to face so many fears and take risks I never would have taken in New York. I needed to feel that need, that desperation where the only way to survive was to “write like a motherfucker”, to extend myself and become open to new experiences. I’m still learning, and there are times I want to hide away. I am so often overwhelmed by life; there are so many decisions for me to make every single day, so much noise and chaos. Just writing this is hard, but I am finding my strength every day. Thanks to LTYM, I’m taking an amazing writing workshop, Writing the Body, led by fellow cast member Cathleen Delia Mulrooney, and I am learning how to open up and find the power in my life, even the most traumatic parts, the parts that nearly became my undoing.

I am tired of hiding.

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Take that!

Back in March, when I was bonding with my word warriors and being inspired at AWP, Cheryl Strayed wrote me a note as we chatted briefly in the hallway. (Still pinching myself.) I read it every single day. On May 12, 2013, on that stage, I truly began living it.

Flawless life advice.

Flawless life advice.

[sic]

 

P.S. All photography from the show is by Donna Harlev.

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the perks of reading “perks…” as an adult

I finally got around to reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky over the holidays because what says “holiday cheer” like a story about a depressed high schooler? Now, I’ll be real. I’m the woman who still relates to Holden Caulfield on some level. He’s supposed to be kind of annoying; he’s a typical teen who thinks he knows everything, but he’s also scared out of his mind and confused as hell. Congrats if you don’t really identify with that, but I always have and always will. I embrace it. Perks was like meeting a more modern Holden for me. Chbosky nailed Charlie’s voice so perfectly, it really does feel like Charlie is speaking directly to me. There is the backlash concerning the whole “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite” line, as if anyone who found that deep or affecting is a silly pseudo-intellectual hipster jerk, but I really don’t give a fuck. I loved the whole damn book. It took me back to that place where even the tiniest moment felt so important and being with the right person, listening to the right music, just meant everything, how taking solace in those moments provided relief from otherwise unbearable pain and confusion. I’m really glad I read Perks now as opposed to when I was younger. I was so walled off then, and I don’t think I would have related to it as much as I do now that I’ve confronted so many past demons. It was just beautiful, and I am so grateful that I had friends who encouraged me to read the book. I am really looking forward to seeing the movie, though I don’t know just how I will be able to handle watching so much beautiful heartache played out on my television screen.

In the meantime, I’ll be listening to this….

Strawberry Swing

I know, I’ve been gone for a while, sucked into work, work and more work (and, ahem, kicking NaNoWriMo’s ASS!), but I’m here now, needing this little bit of space I’ve carved out. So, I’ve been listening to Frank Ocean a lot, and Strawberry Swing, which has given me a lot of comfort this month. I’m just trying to find some beauty and light in the darkness.


Did you hear that alarm? Wake up! Arise!

If you need more inspiration to get moving, you should probably watch Junot Diaz on NBCLatino’s Cafecito: http://nbclatino.com/2012/12/12/cafecito-junot-diaz-on-finding-your-voice/

It’s time to create, to pull out the light and spread hope in this world.

[sic]

my lit life.

Lover Man and I finally bought two bookshelves for our place (yea, end of year bonus!), and, at long last, I was able to unpack and reorganize my books. When I put the final book on my favorites shelf (that would be “No Place For Me” by Barthe DeClements), I was choking back tears. It was just overwhelming, seeing the literature that shaped me as a writer, as a human being, all together. I mean, Baudelaire and Bunnicula on the same shelf? In my mind, they are equally important, and so yes, together they shall go.

But maybe we should start from the ground up….

Vampires, feminism, food, poetry, etc....

My bottom shelf was the perfect size for all of my research/scholarly type books. I picked up a lot of these at library sales and half.com. I love finding old books and random anthologies. The Vampire Encyclopedia was given to me by one of my best friends in high school who passed away a couple of years ago. She wanted me to publish a novel and gave it to me for research and inspiration. One of my staunchest supporters, even when I was at my most insecure. There are also some more horror novels: The Haunting by Shirley Jackson, World War Z, The Amityville Horror, etc.

Next up: Young Adult Wonderland!

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Fuck Yeah, Sweet Valley!

So, My YA collection requires two full shelves, and that’s not counting the YA stuff I put on the favorites shelf. YA lit is a mixed bag right now, but that’s true of any genre. I love YA lit when it is done right. And before you say anything about my beloved Sweet Valley: those books are brilliant trash. I’ve had some of those since I was 10 years old. I’m actually missing a few, which makes me sad. I adore seeing how beat up they are, especially the sagas. Okay, so they kind of fucked with my expectations of high school, but Saved By The Bell didn’t exactly help in this area, either. Growing up, I always thought I was the perfect mix of Elizabeth and Jessica. I also loved that Jessica was the bad girl. Made me feel better about having like, THE MOST COMMON NAME EVER. I was such a goody two-shoes, but I had an inner hellion that clawed its way out during college. I did that devious Wakefield proud.

Christopher Pike. Dude. His work blew my mind. I loved his female characters. They were all so ballsy and flawed and real. He was a master of science fiction and horror, and I loved his takes on religion and high school.

In terms of modern YA, there is some quality work out there. A few of these are to-reads, and I’m currently reading Sunshine. This book gives me hope. Smart female protagonist, ace world-building, fresh rendering of vampire myths. I’m hooked and hope it gets even better. In other news, Return to Oz is the shit. I loved the movie so much more than The Wizard of Oz as a kid, and the same goes for the book. And no library is complete without Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Talk about a fucking genius. I also have some John Green and Libba Bray on this shelf.

So, where are all the “grown up” books?

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Blam!

Who says Harry Potter isn’t adult fiction? But anyway. Behind these books are the books which I’ve read and needed to retire for a bit. A lot of the books on this shelf are “to-read,” so putting them up front was a pretty obvious choice. A good mix of classic lit and modern literary fiction. I’m excited to read these and wrap myself in beautiful prose and plot twists. Perhaps I’ll review a few. Obviously, Good Omens is a perennial fave, I just thought it looked nice and snug tucked in with faerie lore and modern lit. Then there’s Maggie O’Farrell’s “After You’d Gone.” Lawd. I clung to this book for dear life during the darkest time in my life. I felt like someone understood my pain, that we could cry and rage and grieve together, even though Alice wasn’t real. To me, she was very real and understood what I was in too much pain to express. I thought about putting that book on the top shelf, but I rather like it next to O’Farrell’s latest, which I shall be reading soon. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is up there as well, and I really want to read it already!

And finally:

Favorites!

I think the thread the runs throughout all of these books is the yearning to survive, finding the magic in even the most horrific circumstances. It’s a shame you can’t see some of the books on the shelf, such as House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Drown by Junot Diaz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (both the Signet Classic and Illustrated editions), etc. I love how fucking weird all of these books are, from Davey Wexler climbing the rocks to escape the pain of her father’s death to Shari Cooper solving the mystery of her own murder. Baudelaire’s filthy, depraved Paris. Block’s sparkling, sumptuous Los Angeles and other worlds. DeLint’s magical Newford. Shakespeare’s forests and Austen’s elegant England. Houses the grow from the inside and out and little girls that drown in their own tears. Can you tell that I’ve read Catcher in the Rye about a billion times? That copy is the one I bought way back in 1994 when it was assigned for freshman English. I got that copy of Pride and Prejudice from my high school library not long after I graduated, when the school was set to close for good. It’s the best thing I received from that school. These are all the books I revisit on a regular basis, books that make me cry and dream and feel no matter how many times I read them. My copy of Dangerous Angels is falling apart. I found 3 of the 5 individual volumes at a library sale for ten cents each! I love Echo so much. That book saved my life. It was while I was curating this shelf that I noticed that I don’t own Primavera, the follow up to Ecstasia. Apparently, I had taken it out of the library. Why, oh why, don’t I own it? It’s one of my favorites! I must get on that.

Oh, and is that a signed, first edition Stephen-King-writing-as-Richard-Bachman perched atop the mighty shelves?

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Why, yes. Yes it is. Worth every second of camping out overnight outside the Union Square Barnes & Noble.

Also, the jaunty little cat guarding King’s autograph was given to me by a writer family whose child I taught one year. I thought it was so cool that they didn’t get me an Eiffel Tower or something like that. It was so random and quirky and feels right to have my little literary kitty watching over my collection. I have some other autographed books in the collection, and I considered posting them here, but…they feel personal. The Stephen King one does, too, but I think I’ve gotten used to telling the story of how I met King, and what a force he is in person, that it felt okay to share.

Writers are my rock stars. There is an energy at book signings that is hard to duplicate. To hear the author’s words from their own mouths, to get a peek into their process, to shyly proclaim my longing to be a writer and actually have support, no matter how brief…these are the things that excite me. To hear them say that they were once like me, struggling and lost and building these worlds with words out of this burning need to create, to tell stories, to make sense out of even the smallest curiosities, keeps me going. Even when I’ve wanted to do other things, like be a fashion designer, I looked to literature and writing to help me survive the dark, sleepless nights, the hellish days, the disappointments and mediocrity. What a thrill it is to be able to say, “Thank you” to all of the writers who helped me survive. I haven’t been to a reading/signing in a long time. That really needs to change.

What’s better than getting your favorite author’s autograph? How about, say, having that author choose your story for her anthology? Yeah, all these months later, I still get emotional when I think about it. Thank you, Francesca Lia Block. Thank you. Also: buy it!

When I had my own moment to read my words out loud and explain my own process a bit, it felt so surreal and scary, but so right. For a moment, I was like the authors whose autographs live inside these shelves. It’s an addictive feeling; I’m itching to do it again, even though I know I will be sick with worry and stressed out beyond belief. And okay, even though Love Magick, the anthology with my story is an e-book, I will totally print out the title page and sign it for you. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a book with my name on it, and ivory sheets with bold black type telling my story. Someday.

Sometimes, it’s hard to talk about my writing. I brought up the anthology the other day, just for the hell of it, at dinner with some coworkers, and I got a whole lot of blank stares, so I changed the subject. I’ve also gotten a lot of positive responses from other people in my life, so I guess it’s all about taking a risk. No one’s going to read my work if they don’t know it exists!

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and gazing lovingly at my collection, pondering what to read next, what fits my mood and, most importantly, what books I’m going to buy to join my lovelies.

Back to work!

[sic]

Sweet Love Magick Hangover.

Last weekend, I had the honor of participating in the NYC Love Magick Anthology reading at the amazing Bowery Poetry Club, and I’m still reeling from the lovebuzzrush. But first:

Saturday: I had a nice little walk around Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill with fellow Love Magick contributor LM. We did some rapid fire editing and giggly confessions of jangling nerves over chocolate loveliness and a single rose at The Chocolate Room. (Try the Francesca and Lola truffles. Seriously, heaven.)

More importantly, we picked up swag (on sale!) at By Brooklyn, a brilliantly curated little general store on Smith Street:

The tee is for my lover man. The Tumbador chocolates are supposed to be also, but…we’ll see.

Seriously.

Seven Deadly Sins chocolates, fuck yeah! Gluttony (center gold-flecked) never looked so good. 

Then Lover Man and I wandered the rain-soaked streets of Downtown Brooklyn until, famished but still in good spirits, we landed at a little pizzeria in Ft. Greene. We were hoping for a romantic date night, and let me tell you, there is nothing more romantic than the first euphoric bite of a Sicilian slice. That little snap of crust, the pillowy, chewy center, the rich, salty cheese strings stretching from my mouth to the plate. Oh. My. God.

Sexy time.

Sunday was the big day, which I started out by getting a bitchin’ mani-pedi using Essie’s A-List. Fakin’ it ’til I make it, lovelies.

And then: The John Barrett Salon Braid Bar. Oh yes. It is everything you would expect and more.  Alex, the man with hands of gold, diplomatically advised I treat my (stressed out scalp and fried) strands with oil but assured me that I “have great hair!” Alex shampooed my stress away; for the first time all weekend I truly relaxed. I had no idea how tense and nervous I was until I realized I had been sitting in the shampoo chair with my feet arched up, tiptoes bracing for–what, exactly? Breathe. Breathe. The shampoo smelled opulent and beautiful; I imagine this is what heaven would smell like. I thumbed through a recent issue of Tatler and had my hair braided by the brilliant Bonnie. The resulting braid was exactly what I had envisioned: a little tough, a little edgy, a hint of softness, perfectly me. A brief makeup refresher, and I was off!

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So pretty!

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Love the side view!

But what about the reading? The Bowery was wonderful, the crowd and community of readers were wildly supportive, and we all had a blast! Liz Axelrod wrote an amazing review for Electric Literature’s blog, The Outlet: http://electricliterature.com/blog/2012/02/23/magickal-readism-at-the-bowery-poetry-club/

I celebrated with dive bar margaritas, hugs in the middle of St. Mark’s Place and a late night falafel sandwich from Mamoun’s. It was perfect.

Before returning home the next day, I stopped at Smith Canteen for a chicory latte and got one last smile from the barista’s description of my order, written in such perfect script on my cup:

Chic Jessa

Indeed.