“Too many young women I think are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short. They too often take criticism personally instead of seriously. You should take criticism seriously because you might learn something, but you can’t let it crush you. You have to be resilient enough to keep moving forward, whatever the personal setbacks and even insults that come your way might be. That takes a sense of humor about yourself and others. Believe me, this is hard-won advice I’m putting forth. It’s not like you wake up and understand this. It’s a process.”—Hillary Clinton on how to handle criticism & other advice for young women, The Cut (via fetchalgernon)
“My mother tells me
that when I meet someone I like,
I have to ask them three questions:
1. what are you afraid of?
2. do you like dogs?
3. what do you do when it rains?
of those three, she says the first one is the most important.
“They gotta be scared of something, baby. Everybody is. If they aren’t afraid of anything, then they don’t believe in anything, either.”
I met you on a Sunday, right
one look and my heart fell into
my stomach like a trap door.
on our second date,
I asked you what you were afraid of.
“spiders, mostly. being alone. little children, like, the ones who just learned how to push a kid over on the playground. oh and space. holy shit, space.”
I asked you if you liked dogs.
“I have three.”
I asked you what you do when it rains.
“sleep, mostly. sometimes I sit at the window and watch the rain droplets race. I make a shelter out of plastic in my backyard for all the stray animals; leave them food and a place to sleep.”
he smiled like he knew.
like his mom told him the same
“how about you?”
I’m scared of everything.
of the hole in the o-zone layer,
of the lady next door who never
smiles at her dog,
and especially of all the secrets
the government must be breaking
its back trying to keep from us.
I love dogs so much, you have no idea.
I sleep when it rains.
I want to tell everyone I love them.
I want to find every stray animal and bring them home.
I want to wake up in your hair
and make you shitty coffee
and kiss your neck
and draw silly stick figures of us.
I never want to ask anyone else
The path is wider than I remember.
They refurbished the wooden railing and added benches along the way,
but the branches from the gnarled trees curl over the railing
and drape over their backs,
a steadying arm.
Here nature dissolves in the sunlight,
the decay permeates into murky waters,
soggy lily pads, wilting reeds.
filmy remnants of the Sound
cling to the remains of old dock posts
that leave splinters along the shores.
Years ago, every week,
I walked with my grandfather down this moss-lined road.
I’d try and read the information signs about the park,
though they would eventually turn into stories of us,
his ears always seemed so eager.
I can feel his hands,
large, warm brown paws.
One hand picking flowers at my side
the other always holding on to mine as I tried to frolic away,
to maintain a connection,
a thin string,
like the fishing lines we cast off the docks,
I pulled and he followed.
In gnarled trees I see him:
a stiff gait, a slanted spine,
an old roof-top, weathered.
Roots that cling to the earth,
frail branches that struggle to blossom in spring.
Sometimes we still walk the paths,
though he falls behind at the slowest of tempos.
He tries so hard to linger.
I fall in step with him, grasp his hand harder
as dark leaves crunch beneath our feet
on the way back to the car.
Though I lead, I’m terrified of the day
he’s pulled away to a place I can’t follow.
It was only for a moment. A second. You looked in pain. I remember when you’d get migraines, or when everybody around you just got a little too much, and this look was what plagued your face. I stopped, and we made eye contact for the first time in months.
My thing is, have sex whenever you decide to want to have sex. You want to have sex on the first night, go ahead. You want to have sex after 20 dates, go ahead. You want to never have sex, go ahead. People think that someone’s sexual choices actually coincide with their personality. If all you can think of someone’s worth is whether they want to have sex or not, then the problem is probably you.
Was there a guide somewhere about how to write in cities that you've never visited? Or am I just making this up? My story takes place in Atlanta, somewhere I have never visited and most likely won't be able to any time soon but my characters have lived there all their lives. do you know how I would be able to make Atlanta believable? Or that guide I've seemed to have misplaced? (If it existed at all.)
(If such a guide exists in the Tumblrsphere of writing blogs, I cannot seem to find it. Tumblbuds?)
The short answer is research, and lots of it. Books with maps and pictures, Google Maps, and Google Earth can show you what it looks like. Reading books, blog posts, articles about Atlanta can help you get a feel for what it might be like there. Get in touch with people who currently live in Atlanta and ask them your questions.
Nothing will beat firsthand research, but we can make do with books and the Internet. Let us know if you have further questions for us.
A lift and what follows, what follows is charm and what is charming. Supposing it showed what is slimy, all that is showed is sublime. Eager the beat that follows, the beat is followed by what is kept within. What is the use of what is kept within, if only to distinguish what is kept without. To draw upon, to change the way things are, perhaps it is better to be left opaque. Actually, by chance if left frosted the beat will follow. It is not a disgrace to let out what’s within, it’s distinguished. In between the lift there is plenty and more, more is almost enough.
Rome in Italy is an epic poem, a virus, an off-tune symphony, a term of endearment, an addiction, a haze, a nostalgia, a dream. Rome is the cobbled and the fabled, graveyards upon graveyards, chipped marble and polished stone, gods and popes and whores with blank eyes, semi-authentic restaurants, green rivers and rainbow graffiti, buoyant laughter, poets under violets, domes and crypts, completely authentic bars, melting gelato and half-dead grass and leather shoe stores. Rome is a city bursting at its seams.
On ancestry.com I track down my Mother Tongue
(my father’s I’ve known all along).
Despite the static of my computer screen I trace the letters of my Korean name
each syllable represented by a character
each character represented by the parts I play
each part a false start.
Knowledge is instantaneous; enlightenment takes time.
I use my browser history as a diary—
clearing out the cache won’t dissuade my descendants from unearthing my tumblr obsession
who I stalked on February 4th
or how much money I spent on online shopping.
I’d indulge in shame but after resigning myself to the knowledge that
my great-grandchildren will learn the specific type of porn I prefer,
shame is a wasted feeling.
Thought at least I won’t be as bad as my own great-grandmother
who let her mother’s language wither on her tongue,
preferring to spit out insults in the Other Tongue, terrible English enunciation be damned.
She took that language to her grave, taking that dormant part from each of us
and locking it in her black box.
(She wanted to be buried but we cremated her instead—why preserve a useless thing?)
I cannot be taught what she took away. So
I hide in French bakeries and listen to Another Tongue
and recall how heavy their words felt in my mouth
when I borrowed them to order a pastry in Paris at sixteen.
I’m told by a friend that to get anywhere in this world I’ll need to know how to Code
but all I can think of are Etruscans and Latin codes that will never be solved
(authentic Latin accents are forever lost; Etruscan idioms buried beneath mounded tombs.)
I construct my own code
each symbol represents a syllable
each line represents a life.
I fill my browser history with How to Speak Korean videos,
gelateria locations & Italian idioms,
an Amazon page for a Hawaiian pidgin book,
all the parts of myself,
so when my descendants un-earth me
I can feed them back those dormant parts
I can guide their budding tongues,
give them what I couldn’t receive.
In honor of the first day of National Poetry Month
For my study abroad program in Rome a couple years ago, one of my major assignments was to give a “talk” at the end of the program to my peers in which I picked a Rome-related subject, such as a person, place, object, etc. and then talked about how that subject related to my own experiences during the trip.
I was looking through my files the other day when I came across it. I didn’t think I had the entire talk in its entirety, so I thought I’d post it, as a reminder of that experience and what I love most about poetry.
"My Talk About Piazza Navona
It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian. The Piazza Navona sits over the interior arena of the Stadium. The sweep of buildings that embrace the Piazza incorporate the Stadium’s original lower arcades. The Stadium of Domitian was commissioned by Emperor Titus Flauvius and it was used for athletic games. The ancient Romans came there to watch the agones (“games”), and hence it was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (competition arena). It is believed that over time the name changed to ‘in agone’ to ‘navone’ and eventually to ‘navona’ The Piazza Navona was built in 1st century AD, about 86 years after the birth of Christ, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium.
Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century (according to a website, it is able to “welcome” 33,000 people) when the city market was transferred to it from theCampidoglio(Capitoline Hill), the Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned from 1644-1655, and whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza.
The Piazza Navona has two additional fountains: at the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, or African, wrestling with a dolphin, and at the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) created byGiacomo della Porta. The statue of Neptune in the northern fountain, the work of Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to make that fountain more symmetrical with La Fontana del Moro in the south.
At the southwest end of the piazza is the ancient ‘speaking’ statue of Pasquino. Erected in 1501, Romans could leave lampoons or derogatory social commentary attached to the statue.
During its history, the piazza has hosted theatrical events and other ephemeral activities. From 1652 until 1866, when the festival was suppressed, it was flooded on every Saturday and Sunday in August in elaborate celebrations of the Pamphilj family. The pavement level was raised in the 19th century and the market was moved again in 1869 to the nearby Campo de’ Fiori. A Christmas market is held in the piazza.
Why Piazza Navona? People asked me. Why is that your topic? What’s so special about Piazza Navona? It’s pretty, to be sure; Bernini’s fountain is incredible, that much is true; and it’s odd to find such a wide open space in Rome, but what good is that space, people ask, when it’s always jam packed with tourists and phony artists and pushy waiters? Why go there, where everyone always goes, the tourist traps of all tourist traps, the place where people think they’re getting an authentic Italian experience but really they’re just getting a carefully crafted after thought?
Because I love it, I say. Just because I love it.
I would love that to be my ending, would think myself pretentiously poetic, but that’s not the point of this and I’m glad. I am trying to train myself out of writing sappy endings like that, anyway. Another facet of my poetic process while here in Rome.
But I digress.
I picked Piazza Navona because, in my truly tourist heart, I consider it my home in Rome. From the very first time I went there to just yesterday morning when we passed through it, whenever I step into the piazza and catch sight of the obelisk on atop Bernini’s fountain, the carcinogen filled air becomes a little clearer; I exhale just a little more slowly; I smile just a little bit wider. I said I love it and I do because when I’m there it’s like being in love. When I’m there, I’m home, I’m where I’m meant to be. There’s just something about Piazza Navona that called to my soul and made me fall in love with Rome.
The first time I went to Piazza Navona, I was freshly sixteen and was introduced via my tour guide, a British woman named Tessa. In the limited time I was in Rome, I would spend almost all of my free time here. I liked to sit in the piazza and people watch during early afternoon; I liked to come at night and look at paintings; I didn’t realize what a tourist trap was. I didn’t acknowledge myself as a tourist. How could I, when I assumed that this is where I was meant to be.
When I came back to Rome again, I was determined to have an almost repeat experience—at least with my piazza. I looked for it almost immediately and it was my area of comfort, my little corner of the world that would be the one familiar thing amidst new experiences, new people, new challenges.
Piazza Navona is a symbol of my comfort zone, of what my expectations of Rome were when I knew I was coming back. It also, in a sense, represents my conceptions of poetry and my ideas on what I thought this course would be like. I thought I could write as I always have; I thought my personal knowledge of the world and of Rome would help me, give me an advantage, almost, over people who had never been here before. I thought that my limited knowledge of Italian, English, and creative writing would put me in a good place, would make this trip a little less awkward. I had created a Piazza Navona to fit in my proverbial traveler’s pocket.
But this course was not just centered around a single Bernini Fountain and tourist trap paintings, so I didn’t get to stay in my comfort zone, not even a little bit. I had to venture out into twisted alleys and convoluted cobblestones. I had to learn what it meant to get lost, and to find the joy in getting lost. I had to learn how to do this both in life and in my poetry. I had to be okay with not knowing what I was going to write about, to only have three hours to do it, and I had to be okay with the unknown.
I came into this trip with the motto that even if things went bat shit crazy, eventually everything will be all right. My goals were to go with the flow; to be flexible and adventurous and to (try) and not complain about anything, or as little as possible. Who has the right to complain about anything when they’re in Italy and their only job is to write about what they see and what they feel? What could be a better way to look at your world?
I got lost a lot as I wandered beyond the borders of Piazza Navona. I lost a lot, too: my phone; my pride; my maps; my sanity; and, at times, my eyesight. But the great thing about getting lost is that you just have more room to pick up other things that others have lost along the way.
I’m so glad I got out of my wonderful piazza, literally and metaphorically and metonymally. By leaving it, I lost nothing and instead gained everything.
What did I gain from leaving my dear piazza, do you ask?
I gained an education in different poetical forms: I learned that both piazzas and poetry have different shapes and sizes—more often than not, piazzas are not long and grand, but squished between side streets and alley ways; sometimes they are barely piazzas; sometimes they’re just slightly wider streets. Poetry-wise, I can see poetry in sonnets and haikus, treterzas and pantoomes; ghutzels and villanelles. And I have seen the advantages of smaller things, of brevity and of being concise—long epics are great, to be sure, but haikus have charm of their own, each carefully chosen word a snapshot in and of itself. Like Italy, I have learned to eliminate the extraneous and build over it.
I gained the knowledge of views other than my own. Through cohorts, group discussions, and talking with people in our group, people in grocery stores, people on the streets, I’ve learned to look at Rome in a completely different way. I’ve learned how to take a different lens—a religious one, a cultural one, a weird one—and apply it to the aperture I was trying to look through and see if it would help. I’ve also learned what my own lens is, learned how to make sense of what I was seeing. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t be dazzled by everything and that didn’t make me ungrateful or uncultured or desensitized. Having Piazza Navona as a basis actually helps me with that. You can’t force a connection with something or someone. It just has to happen.
Likewise, with poetry, there’s a difference between guiding your work and forcing it. Using a form, for instance, can help provide guidance to your work in a way that helps you, that makes you say things you wouldn’t normally say and have them turn out the better for it. But forcing work out has been a challenge for me. Having such tight time constrictions doesn’t give me the freedom I would like to wait for inspiration to strike—sometimes I do have to force something out and I hate it. But I’ve also learned that most of the time you don’t need to force it, because if you’re observant enough, if you’re willing to shed previous perspectives and attempt new ones, then usually you can grab onto something and run with it for your poem.
And finally, I gained the truth that truly, poetry is everywhere. I, who, as you have probably have noticed, can’t physically help myself—I talk all of the time. I can’t help but make a comment or throw something out there—words always seem to be slipping out. But I’ve learned the beauty and payoff of silence. I’ve gone so deeply into myself while being able to reach to the edge of my vision and the world around me that a lot of the time it’s hard to start speaking again, and many times, I don’t want to. I’ve learned that there is poetry in fragments of tourist conversations; in half-open doors and the corners of paintings; in educational talks about basilicas, Italian idioms, and the sublime; in puns and staged southern conversations; in philosophical ramblings about history and dogs, or even the history of dogs; I’ve found it in what my roommates say and what I say and what I hear outside of my window. I find it in the obvious, I find it in the obscure. Maybe I don’t always know where or when to apply it; maybe I don’t even understand what its significance is; but I can recognize it for what it is and what its purpose is.
I think the last one has been the most important for me because in a way, I’ve gained something that I thought was lost forever. In the past few years, since high school at least, I haven’t written like I used to when I was younger. I used to carry yellow notepads with me everywhere, writing down everything, and somewhere along the way, I lost that trait. I like to half-joke, half-mourn to people that I lost my creativity. I used to think that my creative soul was crumbling and it would just be another rotting figure in my figurative Roman forum. I didn’t think I could ever restore that spark; I had lost the ability to be inspired and to see the inspirational and this trip has restored that part of me.
But coming here, participating in this trip, has given it back to me. Maybe I just left those parts here when I was sixteen the way I left coins in the Trevi fountain—maybe I just tucked them under the benches of Piazza Navona and coming back here was the kickstart I needed.
The funny thing is that since I’ve been here, I’ve only been to Piazza Navona once on my own. Every other time I’ve been here has just been a drive-by while walking somewhere else, or as a chance to adjectify and veriby fountains.
At first the thought made me sad. It almost made me feel like I had wasted some time here by not spending it there. What was I doing during siesta? Why didn’t I listen to Jan? Why did I make my lunch and take a nap and actually do my homework? What was I thinking?
And yet… writing this, maybe I understand now. Granted, I haven’t had the time to go back to Piazza Navona, but maybe it’s because I don’t need it anymore. Piazza Navona will always own a piece of my truly tourist heart, but other parts of Italy do as well—Trastevere, Via Vittorio Emmanuelle, Campo dei Fiori, even Piazza Bischone—even places in the far reaches of Italy, like Buffalo B&Bs and Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Each has given me something differently and I can use all of them and all of my new knowledge of poetry techniques and I can take that back with me to Seattle. I will carry notebooks and go on silent walks and see if I can go on new adventures in Seattle. I will have new perspectives to help me even when I see the same scenery.
Here in Rome there is no place that does not see you; and perhaps I, a bit naively, have thought that there has been no place that I have not seen. I will always love my Piazza Navona, for how it makes me feel and for what it has given me, but leaving its borders and striking out on my own was the best decision I could have made, in more ways than one.
I’m so glad that I listened to Rilke and changed my life.”