HOW TO LIVE IN IT

(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

Category: Guest Posts

A Body (guest post)

by Abbigail Baldys

i don’t know how to write a blog or have a body

since i’m borrowing (perverting?) kaeli’s blogspace, i suppose it’s mildly appropriate that i begin with kaeli herself. i met kaeli—following fashion of all my favorite beings—in a poetry class in undergrad at UPitt. i admired her talent, intelligence, brilliant t-shirts, & self-haircuts (please tell me again how you manage that, darling). & as i’ve read her blog, i’ve noticed something more to admire. kaeli is brave in all the vulnerable spaces. & it makes sense to me—what good is a cowardly sensitivity? & maybe it’s some cultural fallacy i’m following when i write that emotional transparency is brave, but i imagine that fallacy has made legitimate too many poets, authors, & artists for it to matter.

despite my rampant (& somewhat insane) support of transparency, i’ve been a public- emotion coward. most notably, my cowardice nestled in the poetry i wrote (& write—old habits fuck hard—wait—no–): i created cryptic syntax. i redacted lines. & while i’m not a proponent of radical transparency, (some things still should remain sacred—the secrets held in bodies don’t always need to write themselves out), i am on the side of good-intentioned personal honesty. &, in this space, kaeli has inspired me to be honest.

i’ve had body dysmorphia since i can remember. i didn’t obsess over it, & i never even identified it until high school was tucked neatly into retrospect. i attribute my late-onset to the gift of distraction: from 5-22 years old, i purposed my body through athletics. my collegiate soccer experience forced me to accept a forfeit of my body independence—i was to understand that my body needed to perform certain functions at certain times; i must gain mass; i must have a low percentage body fat; i must eat only what maximizes performance. & in calling all this attention to my fat & muscle & skin & bone, i suppose collegiate athletics tipped me further into body consciousness.

& as much as i’d love to completely blame my disorder on collegiate soccer (which is some odd form of prostitution, to be honest), i’ll admit that my genetics don’t boast the prettiest tendencies for mental stability, so i’m always kind of walking the craggy edge of fuckery/sanity—although, really, there’s not much of a dividing line.

after i retired from soccer, my body owned—bit by bit—more of my consciousness. by the time i graduated college & touched down in Berkeley for a summer writing program, food & body became obsessions. & as much as i wish i could pin-point what went wrong & how & when & exactly what mildly fucked up things i couldn’t entirely process from my childhood & from what in particular my body-obsession was distracting myself & whatever whatever (obviously i made it to therapy), i feel like my body un-doing was more of a slow unravel. i won’t catalogue what happened in Berkeley because my body is more than what i’ve suffered. if what they say is true—that we’re made of the same stuff as stars—then i’m much more concerned with our radiance & triumph than void.

i arrived back on the east coast weighing roughly twenty pounds underweight. i was constantly lightheaded, i couldn’t walk two miles without feeling like i was going to pass out, & i spent most of my time in bed. i started going to therapy. i got a puppy. i began eating again. i gained weight. i still had a secret scale & weighed myself a lot & mostly cried. but things got better. i could run again. i could think about things that weren’t food & my body-disgust, & i could write much more coherently. i gained more weight. i got a shitty job in retail. i wrote letters & marveled thunderstorms & moved to Richmond.

i’ve been here almost 4 months & haven’t weighed myself in almost that much time—thanks to a note on the scale from my particularly fantastic boyfriend (something along the lines of “you weigh gorgeous pounds and beautiful ounces; don’t let a number dictate how you feel”). i don’t own a full-length mirror. i cook & bake cookies & work in a florist (i know too much about flowers & how they mold) & most days i’m still genuinely fucked with my body perception. & part of what i’ve learned about sensitive minds is that they’re often their own undoing— & although i’m sure we’ve heard this all before too too too many times, it never hurts to say it again—our most scathing critics are often ourselves, & as keepers of our realities, that makes life pretty fucking hard.

& while i’ve been able to meditate a lot on bodies & their functions & interpretations (no boring, odd theoretical lecture ahead), i think what i’d like to share most about my disorder is this:

1. being disordered isn’t pretty. you feel like shit, you look like shit. [& people told me this & provoked more body shame (thanks, fuckheads), but the scariest thing is that some people told me i looked good. & i’d like to raise a giant middle finger to all the people who said ‘wow, you look amazing’]. & i owe too many apologies for tarnished relationships, & i struggle now to be stable with my current boyfriend—but when you find someone who really loves you, they stay.

2. & staying brings me to this—you’re never alone. when you allow those you love to help you (especially those with four paws & wet noses), the world begins to feel gentle again.

3. you’re not your enemy. to paraphrase my therapist—“there’s nothing wrong with you. there’s nothing you need to change about yourself. there are just parts of you calling for your attention, & they’re asking you to listen to what they’re saying. it’s hard. but when you listen, you can learn how to answer back.”

i’d like this little written profession to be an invitation for & celebration of honesty. our struggles are tailored to ourselves, but maybe part of my recovery will be a stitch in someone else’s—and wouldn’t that be nice—if perhaps we’re all sewn in one big ball of beautifully fucked up minds—i don’t know.  maybe the fault lines in our palms are really logograms for the poetry of our skin—perhaps everything we touch becomes poetry—perhaps bodies are the most immediate way of experiencing art & that’s why we have them—& maybe you & i should revere ourselves in the most incredibly gentle ways. we’re stars, after all. we feel so much. we explode so fine.

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abbigail baldys lives in RVA with her german shepherd, blaze. she’s an unknown poet, tea-cup collector, simple songwriter, & half-artist. you can write her a letter or send your teeth addressed to: 3122 W Clay Street Apt#10 / Richmond, VA 23230

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Bomb Threats (guest post)

by Peter Webb

RETROSPECTIVE REGARDING 2012 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH BOMB THREATS

BACKGROUND

Two years ago, I lived in the Lothrop dorm at Pitt for my second consecutive year. Because of the bomb threats, we were evacuated twice to the Peterson Events Center, both times in the early morning. The evacuation crew provided snacks, cots, and t-shirts.

The threats lasted for about three months, starting at about this time and lasting through finals. I had a good time during this period. Many of my classes were canceled, several tests and even finals were moved online, and with everyone I saw, I had something to talk about. Every day at Pitt I am surrounded with people I will never meet. With the bomb threats, I had already met everyone. I remember people talking in the Market Central stairwell about security, I remember discussing without fear the issue with perfect strangers, I remember everyone having an opinion about what was going on, what the university should do, whether or not we were in danger, I remember a shared excitement between students and faculty alike.

The whole thing was so abstract. I think it was understood that there were no bombs; but because of security, every threat had to be responded to. At least after the first few threats, I think everyone understood that a farce was taking place, the university was following a kind of protocol that would end with the capture of some kid who would receive at least a decade in jail.

Everyone was considering the $50,000 reward for information leading to the culprit, with varying degrees of seriousness. I remember some authority telling me how no friendship was strong enough to stand up to $50,000. In a kind of disassociated way, I began finding ways to blame myself for the threats. I began worrying that I was going to make a threat.

The “threateners” wrote in and asked that the reward be taken down. Pitt chose not to negotiate with terrorists. Later, when the same offer is was made again, Pitt decided to take down the reward. This is how the threats stopped. Pitt also investigated a former teaching fellow who is crazy, a trans couple that had a previous grievance with Pitt Johnstown, and Adam Busby, a Scottish separatist, who I believe was indicted.

SAFETY FIRST

Relying on the idea that any threat is practical at any time was Pitt’s vulnerability to the bomb threats. This, I believe, is a universal policy among institutions. I guess I’m not sure why there are not more of incidents like these, especially in an age where it is possible to make threats which are almost impossible to track.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY IN WAKE OF A DISASTER

I saw the threats as a disaster-like scenario without the disaster itself. No student was harmed, although many were rudely awoken, and many may have missed academic opportunities. To my eye, there was a sense of excitement; it was like a series of days of heavy snow, wherein everyone must adjust their life to some external force, and in that adjustment, something of the human arises.

PITT FOOTS THE BILL; AND HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS

Having to pay for everything, and possibly losing credibility, Pitt essentially was at its knees. Normally I feel a halfhearted existential anger towards Pitt, because I so often see it as manipulative, so during this period I was content for this to be the case. I felt was not my responsibility to care, I felt like a unit in a factory machine which had a wedge thrown in. I feel guilt or a sense of danger for admitting this.

FINAL CONCLUSION

I don’t advocate for more threats; this is important to say, I think, even for this blog. I think I do sometimes want a sort of guilt free way out of the whole edifice of class commitments and huge sums of money which constitutes my perspective of Pitt. But I think this desire is the result of a naivete as regards my position to Pitt. It is perhaps easy to view college without a proper understanding of the weight or complexity of the forces involved; maybe the threats were a chance to see some particular piece of internal logic, descriptive of the whole.

What I’m saying: normally what I see of Pitt is very clad in the colors that the institution has chosen for it: academic excellence, athletic spirit, cheerfulness. During the threats, Pitt in my eyes seemed to partially drop this cladding, and beneath it was visible a complex and maybe morally ambiguous construction, something very strange and led by rules not familiar to the personal realm.

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PETER WEBB is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. His major is English Poetry Writing and he is the head editor of Collision Magazine. He can be contacted at peterbowensewebb@gmail.com and maintains a poetry blog.

Standupiversary (guest post)

by Ryan Thompson

This week marks my two year Standupiversary: two years since the first time I went on stage with a prepared list of “jokes” and told them in front of strangers. This seems like a good time to look back at where I started, where I am now, and the time in between. Here are a few stories, observations, and reflections – thrown together, much like one of my sets, in a half-thought-out order.

In the past 2 years, I have been on a stage (of some sort) with a microphone (in front of varying numbers of people) 95 times. I know there are people who have been doing this for shorter periods of time who have been on stage a lot more than me. Living where I do poses a challenge: the closest all-comedy open mics are 1.5 hours away, in Pittsburgh. When I’m home, I’m relegated to mixed mics, which happen in bars and coffee shops, sometimes without a PA system. These consist of acoustic cover songs (I’ve heard Wagon Wheel and Free Fallin’ more times than any human should), the occasional poet, and my standup (sometimes along with my hilarious friend Jimi). These open mics serve as almost background noise for the patrons of these small college bars. If they hear a song that they drunkenly recognize, they half-sing along as they continue to eat their half priced chicken wings (which are, admittedly, quite good).

Sitting at the bar with an Angry Orchard, I nervously jot down phrases on a notecard to help remember the jokes I want these strangers to enjoy that night:

Shaken Baby
Abortion
Triscuit
Bigfoot
Dog Years

When I walk onto the stage, people become confused. The person who was just on stage tries to hand me the guitar.

“No, I’m going to tell jokes”

“Oh. (pause) So, you don’t need the guitar?”

As I take to the stage, I take a moment to look at the crowd, preparing myself for my time. I loudly proclaim my name and my mission statement, hoping not to startle them, but rather to ease them into my world for the next 10 minutes. It fails, and they continue to eat their food and converse with their potential one-night stands. I stand under the hot stage lights of the otherwise dimly lit back room of Toby Hill. Even though their attention is never fully on me, I tough it out and tell my jokes. Occasionally, one table will pay attention and I’ll get laughs.

This is where I started doing comedy: not under the best circumstances, but I needed to be on stage.

My first trip outside of a 30 mile radius to joke was exciting. I was on TWO shows in one night: one at a skatepark, and the other at a slam poetry event.

I prepare my set almost 2 weeks in advance and practice it relentlessly. I dress up for this. I wear nice pants, a button down shirt, tie, and a sweater vest – even though it’s a lot of degrees outside. I arrive at the skatepark and ride around for a while on the various ramps until the show starts. I’m on first, and there is no host, so I just kind of have to walk up and start. The mic keeps cutting in and out. Thankfully, my experience back home had taught me how to deal with this, and I ditch the microphone completely. After delivering my last punchline, I speed off to the next show.

This one feels a little more… put-together. Four slam poets go on stage before me, spilling their hearts out, emotions and feelings and truth. Then me. Then I get on stage and tell well-rehearsed jokes about Triscuits and Bigfoot for fifteen minutes. This goes surprisingly well. It’s a much needed break from the stories the poets are telling, full of abuse and unrequited loves. It’s a good experience, but I still feel a little uncomfortable, out of place, one of only 2 comedians on a show of 12 slam poets.

Not all of my shows were shoddily thrown together hodgepodges; some were real comedy shows in comedy clubs with people who paid money on a Saturday night to see a show. I haven’t done many club shows in the past two years, but the few I’ve done have been some of my best. The most recent of these shows was in Buffalo this past December. I’ve become friends with my favorite comedian ever, Kyle Kinane, and am lucky enough to be able to do shows with him occasionally.

Sitting in the green room as the host is on stage, I’m told I’m expected to do eight minutes instead of the five I was originally told. This may not seem like a lot, but I’ve got a five-minute set prepared and so I have to scramble to figure out where to put different jokes to fill time. I look like the governor just called to explain that my execution has been moved to five minutes from now and I’m hastily writing my final words.

“Relax,” Kyle says to me from the comfy green room couch. “It’s just jokes. You’ll do great.”

I finish my set list right as the host is supposed to call me to the stage, but he has a forgetful moment, and he brings up the feature act first. I’m super relieved that I have an extra 20 minutes to look over my set. Finally, my name is called, and I walk on stage. Just like the back room of Toby Hill, I stand for a moment and scan the crowd; I can barely see anyone because of the lights. I tell my first joke, and unlike Toby Hill, I hear the crowd and realize everyone is actually paying attention – they’re all laughing. I get offstage and completely forget about the anxiety of having to change my set just minutes before.

“That was awesome, man.” Kinane says to me as I re-enter the green room. He has a beer in hand. He’s ready to get on stage and captivate the audience for the next 45 minutes.

I’m relieved. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I think, “this is really what I want to do.”

I’m not claiming to be an expert on comedy. I’m not claiming to be funny all the time, though I do try hard to be. I have traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get on stage and try to make strangers laugh. It sounds weird when I say it like that, but this is what I’m choosing to do. It’s only been two years, but I’m a comedian, and I don’t plan on stopping.

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Photo by Ashley Crowley.

Ryan Thompson is a comedian from Northwestern PA. Leave it to Ryan to show me up on my own blog by writing 1200 words. Ryan’s comedy lives in the space between honesty and absurdity. His whimsy is balanced by a plainspoken delivery and flavored with a dash of cynicism and self-deprecation. Ryan’s comedy smirks and watches you retrace the steps it has already taken.

Find him on Twitter: zerohacker.