Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Top Ten Things I Am Grateful for This Thanksgiving

In the spirit of David Letterman, and taking full advantage of my new blog mission, I present the top ten reasons I am grateful this Thanksgiving, which has nothingand everythingto do with writing:

10. Good students. They exist. I know I gripe a lot about the bad ones, but, without the good ones, I’d probably kill myself. It’s hard to be an adjunct, to get paid so little, to be so marginal. When on top of that you think sometimes that you might as well have just popped in a movie for all the attention the students pay to class, it really becomes impossible to drag yourself to work. And then, it happens: the great essay, the great comment in class, the rare compliment. Someone who gets it. Someone who makes you feel like you’re a distinguished professor at Harvard. To the good ones, thanks.

9. The Internet. Been around now long enough for people to take it for granted, but I remember a time without it pretty good, when looking something up meant a trip to the library and it could take weeks for you to get a book in the mail. Thanks to the Internet, I read amazing things every day from all over the world, right in my pajamas, and mostly for free. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with old friends and distant family. I can see their pictures and read about what they’re doing and what they care about, and they can learn the same from me. I can connect with people I’ve never met and would have never even heard of without the Internet, people like you reading this right now. Who are you? I don’t even know, but there you are, reading my words. I don’t have to wait for a publisher to find what I have to say interesting; I can publish it right here on my very own free blog. I can also, through the Internet, submit my work to those very publishers I don’t need for this blog, and they can respond to me via email, without having to use stamps or a trip to the post office. I can learn about new journals and presses without having to special-order trade books or scour libraries. The Internet may be a superficial place, but it’s not meant to replace realityjust to enhance it. For its endless stream of information, good and bad, thanks.

8. Being a vegetarian. The more I learn about food, the happier I am to be one. My only regret is that I can’t seem to commit to strict veganismdairy sneaks in anywhere, and I still cave in to cheese. But this mouth has not touched meat for 18 years, and I am grateful, so grateful! Grateful to the original Ms. Alvarez, the English teacher who was a vegetarian and laid the psychological groundwork to make me one, although I wouldn’t succeed at it until I met my husband many years later. If not for her coolness, I might have not considered it. The biggest thanks goes to my husband, who taught me the skills I needed to succeed at itwhat is tofu and where to buy it, and the horrors of factory farming that he used to teach every year in his first-year comp class. Thanks too to my mom, who tagged along at the ripe old age of 64, when many peopleespecially meat-loving Cubanswould have balked at such radical change. But she not only became a vegetarian herself, but learned to cook all over again for us, and to this day tells anybody who will listen about the horror of meat and shares her recipes with strangers at the supermarket. Now that everyone is obese, diabetic, and freaking out at all the hot documentaries like Supersize Me, Food, Inc., and Forks over Knives, I am grateful, so grateful.

7. My education. This cubanita can outtalk, outwrite, and outthink almost everyone she knows, and she has an urban public school, a Catholic school, and a football school to thank for it. Education is what you make of it, my little grasshoppers, and my family taught me to make the most of mine, and I did not find it lacking. What a joy it is to be able to read and understand anything I want, in two languages! (Maybe more, if you give me some extra time, a dictionary, and some leeway when it comes to clarity.) I see grown people every day who can’t read through a simple sentence, either through lack of vocabulary or through lack of sufficient background knowledge. In this increasingly complex world, I pity them. I pity them when they are sick, and they have to trust a bevy of overstressed doctors to prescribe a pill from a company that took them out to dinner. I pity them at the supermarket, when their decisions are based on advertising. I pity them at the mall, when they don’t understand how they are being manipulated. I pity them when they’re bored because “there’s nothing on TV.” Somehow, I was spared living an unexamined life, and, however unfit it has made me to enjoy the wonders of reality television and Black Friday, I am grateful, so grateful.

6. My wealth. I am rich, so rich. I have a house, and although it’s cramped and cracking, it’s secure, and it shelters me and mine. We have air conditioning and Netflix. There are three cars in the driveway, and I can use any at any time. They may not be sexy, but they’re reliable, and all paid for. I have clothes to wear whether it’s hot or cold, and some are even kinda stylish. I have never been hungry, ever, for lack of money to buy food. If my dog gets sick, I can take her to the vet and pay for it, even to her fancy specialist. We have no trouble making copayments for our human doctors. It’s been a struggle for this feminist to accept that this wealth comes from her husband, but I am grateful for every time the bills come and I can pay them without scrambling anymore. This is an enormous blessing. God has given us enough money to live well but not so much to let us forget what it means to lack it, and He has given us this amazing gift of being able to see that it isn’t iPads and Manolo Blahnik shoes that make us happy.

5. My freedom. Yes, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with this country. Being an immigrant is kind of like being the fat cousin someone showed up with to the cool kids’ partythey let you in because they don’t want to be rude, but they would have preferred it if you’d stayed home. But, despite its problems, this continues to be one of the best countries in the world to live in. You pay your taxes and are pretty much free to do what you want after that, and you have a fair shot at a school and a job and a decent life. That’s not equally true for everyone, unfortunately, but, compared to some other countries, the USA is still better. Better than Cuba, anyway. If my parents had not taken the leap, first of all, I might not have even been born, since my mother had so little to eat and was so stressed she couldn’t carry a child to term until she left. Had we gotten around that, I’d probably be an engineer of some kind, but I’d be whoring myself out to the tourists on el Malecón for money to buy food on the black market. I couldn’t keep this blog or do all that wonderful e-living (see #9). My house would belong to the state, and they could take it away whenever they wanted (see #6). Plus it wouldn’t have air conditioning. Or three cars in the driveway. Or a fancy vet. You get the picture. For the USA, I’m grateful.

4. My health. So the flu knocked me out for a couple of weeks. Big deal! I’m almost forty and I’ve never been hospitalized, never even broken a bone. I take not one prescription drug. Man, I’m so healthy. I can eat what I want, I can run up three flights of stairsin heels. I am freakishly, wonderfully, incredibly healthy. Without even trying. I smoked, I still drink, I eat rather badly (vegetarian does not equal healthyconsider that Funyuns and beer are both vegetarian). I totally gave up on that stupid treadmill. I haven’t been to a doctor in over ten years. I am so ridiculously healthy, and I’m grateful.

3. My friends. Don’t have many of them, and don’t treat them wellI neglect them for months, even years. Yet, some hang on. God only knows why. Thanks.

2. My family. They tax me, they heap me, but they are my greatest blessing, my clearest mission, from my immediate family to the extended network of hundreds, it seems, I can call blood. I love my stupid dog, whom I tried to give away when I found her on the street because I had too many pets already and who needed a little annoying mutt. Now that she’s the one and only, I shudder when I remember how close I came to giving her away. She’s next to me right now, working hard to keep me warm, make me happy. And I love my stupid husband, who stumbled into my life and stayed, and who wakes up every morning and goes to sleep at night with the single-minded mission of making me happy and taking care of me. And I love my crazy mother and her vegetarian concoctions and her big Benjamin Franklin head. I love my father, who only knows how to work and did it for me and my mother and does it still at 78, waking up at five in the morning to go to work and coming home to demand that we play dominoes even though we suck at it and he ends every game by saying he will never play with us again. I love my uncle, who, at 91, still plans on going to the beach in the summer. And every cousin and every in-law I haven’t seen for too long who still, somehow, is connected to me in ways no Facebook application can possibly understand. I am grateful for them all, and for the ones who are now dead who watch over me and are waiting.

1. My faith. Somehow, a feminist academic has been able to not only hang on to her faith, but have it grow. True, I might have faltered there for a while in my questioning twenties, but it came back to me and has stayed. There’s much about it that I can’t understand, but faith is believing without understanding, and I do. I wouldn’t find meaning in anything if not for God. If we were just a collection of biochemistry and nothing more, I’d see no reason not to toss the Petri dish into the garbage. The secure knowledge that this broken plane isn’t all there is to my existence is the only thing that makes me able to keep going. So what if things go wrong here? Of course they do. This place is busted. You get through it. You keep your eye on the prize. When I get to heaven, God will explain all the things even the Internet can’t (see #9).  What I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that I know to Whom I’m grateful. It’s kind of baffling that people have come to see this as a secular holiday. I understand that people gather to be with family and celebrate togetherness, but saying thanks implies an audience. Thank you, _____? No comprendo (despite #7). And I’m so freaking grateful that I’m not going to wake up at 3 am to go pitch a tent in front of a store. You might think that has nothing to do with religion, but I’m pretty sure that kind of fevered consumerism is a sign of a serious deprivation of meaning and self-worth. I’m grateful, so grateful, that I do my worshipping at St. Dominic’s, and not Best Buy!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Unexpected Birthday Present & a New Blog Mission

This blog is dying. This is my first post in almost two months! It’s time to make some changes, and what better time than a birthday to start over? Birthdays, like New Year’s, are a time for reevaluation, and significant birthdays that much more soI’m going to be 39! No, it’s not the big 4-0, but it’s in a weird way even more of a milestone: the last of the birthdays beginning with 3. Goodbye, thirties. I feel that compared to 39, 40 will be some kind of arrival, some kind of welcome arrival. Didn’t much enjoy my thirties, for all that they’re supposed to be “the new twenties.” Maybe my forties will be what my thirties were supposed to have been, maybe once I’m there I’ll be able to reinvent myself, or at least this blog. 

The issue that I’m having is staying true to the blog’s description, “A blog for beginning writers about the basics of writing creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.” As you can see above, I’m adding “and other musings about teaching, writing, and living with words.” Less specific, perhaps, but that’s the point. The main reason why I haven’t been posting regularly is simply the lack of time, but there are also other thoughts where writing about writing should be. I only get to teach creative writing in the spring, and when I’m busy I do much less writing of my own, which means that I have much less to say about writing. On the other hand, there are lots of topics I would like to have a chance to write about that don’t fit the original blog description. For a while, I contemplated starting another, more personal blog, but that just seems irrationalif I don’t have time to keep one blog going, what’s the logic in starting another? Besides, according to fellow poet-blogger Ann E. Michael, this blog has always, apparently, been about more than I thought. According to her, my “posts include cultural commentary, books, movies, education, feminism, and tips on writing.” Sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious!

So, expect to see more posts about all that other stuff, as well as the usual posts on craft, which continues to be the main emphasis of this blog as I see it. Hopefully a little more wiggle room in terms of what I allow myself to write about will give me the necessary push to save Writing with Celia.

Meantime, check this out: they’re celebrating MY BIRTHDAY in New York! Oh, this is sweeeeeet! My jaw dropped when I got the Google alert. What a nice thing to do. My thanks go out to Roxanne Hoffman of Poets Wear Prada, who is hosting the event, in which five local poets, David Joel Friedman, author of The Welcome (National Poetry Series, University of Illinois Press. 2006), Erik La Prade (Chelsea), George Held (Greenwich Village), Maria Lisella (Astoria), and Juanita Torrence-Thompson (Flushing), will be reading from their own work and that of the November birthday poets, Stephen Crane (11/1), Marianne Moore (11/15), J.P. Dancing Bear (11/17), Sharon Olds (11/19), Paul Celan (11/20), William Blake (11/28), and myself. My thanks too to Left Bank Books, and to Andrew Christ, who included me in his November poet birthdays list, and, of course, hugs and kisses to the participating poets. If you are anywhere near NY tomorrow night, please go to this event, and comment below! The reading will take place tomorrow, Friday, November 18, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. Left Bank Books is located in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan between Bank and West 12th Streets at No. 17 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10014. For more information, see the Poet’s Wear Prada post on this event.

I can’t tell you how mind-blowing it is to know that my poems are in a city I’ve never been in, in the hands of people I’ve never met. I feel just like Sally Field, who was doing pretty well when she was 39:

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