My heart is an unsound framework,
a foundation set without a blueprint,
a wind longing for walls –
and now, it didn’t:
a reminder that doubt sometimes
that don’t yet exist.
There’s a rock in my hand,
and I don’t know what I’ve broken,
or how many apples I’ve eaten
but never tasted – today,
I’m still starving for bricks,
and you should know this:
I just want to build
Draw it out. Give me
everything in soft explanations,
tell me how things might change,
tell me what our almost plan is,
and I’ll never hold you
to any promise you don’t seal with a kiss.
Everyone expects stability,
a ceiling, a heart like a solid roof –
but I am only looking
to be gathered up, waiting
like an empty horizon,
like lovestruck stars, always
leaning toward an oversized
let us arrange ourselves
not side by side, but with all angles
touching; let us
bend the world to save us both.
Now, anyone who has known me for five minutes can tell you: I am not a violent person. I’m not prone to throwing things, punching people, or flipping out for no reason. But you know how there are certain situations that add insult to injury? Your hackles raise, and you might fly off the handle a bit? Well, this morning, I find myself in just such a situation.
First, they arrived with a smiley face, and I did not say a word. Now, they’re come with inspirational sayings, and I can’t keep quiet any longer. TMI: I have my period. As such, I grabbed a handful of tampons this morning. Maybe I’ve been living under a blissful, chocolate-laden rock – but when in the holy hell of Ohio’s hellmouth did tampon companies start writing motivational saying on tampon wrappers? I mean, they are aware they’re not Dove, right? No one is going to eat this thing.
Of course, to make it worse, I’ve discovered a bit of a grammar snafu. An inconsistency born of vagrant capitalization. A single tampon reads: Celebrate a bold attitude – followed by, “Live Fearlessly!” First, hello, unnecessary exclamation mark. Second, there’s no reason to capitalize fearlessly, especially considering the other sentence has no such construction. Inconsistency, thy name is tampon. *ahem* But seriously, why would a tampon make me want to celebrate a bold attitude? Is there something inherently brazen about tampons? Will using one make me suddenly unafraid of heights?
On another, I’m treated to more erroneously caps: Respect all, Fear none. Honestly, I’m not really loving that comma. Whoever wrote it would’ve been better served by a period. Of course, it’s nowhere near as annoying as, “Go play, I’ve got your back.” Because comma splices cause me actual physical pain, much like my uterine lining is currently doing. First of all, the very last thing I’ve like to do right now is to go play. What part of I’m bleeding conjures up the idea of carefree frolicking? I’d be much more inclined to get in bed, eat candy, and take the world’s longest nap – such that Rip Van Winkle would be like, “Damn girl, you can sleep.” Except I can’t, because I’m an adult. Instead, I’m trying to get through the day without being outwardly cranky.
Next up, we’ve got, “Your period shouldn’t change your active life.” Okay, at least that’s a well-constructed sentence. But you’ll forgive me for asking: by inference and implication, should it change my inactive life? What, exactly, would that entail? This is accompanied by, “Play by your own rules.” I feel like that’s curious, because I wasn’t aware that I should play by someone else’s. Have I been doing that and been unaware – and ye gods, for how long? I should hate to think that I’ve been blindly living my life, constrained by an outside guiding force. Are you there, tampon – it’s me, Ali. Thank you for the permission to play by my own rules.
Lastly, I’ve got two more gems here. There’s “Strive to do your best” and “Declare yourself a winner.” To the first, I’ll say: damn, after all this time, I’ve simply been striving to be mediocre. Thank you for this awakening. To the second, I’ll say: what? What am I a winner of? Does it really count if I just declare it? Do I need a flag? (Shout out to Eddie Izzard.) What if everyone starts running around shouting, “I’m a winner!” and spiking some imaginary football? Would the fabric of society break down? Would everyone get a cookie? And, more importantly, if everyone gets a cookie, does that mean less cookies for me?
The thing is, I get that writing on tampons might be a good avenue for marketing. What I disagree with is what’s written there, because I’m cranky. And the last thing I want to read is a canned accolade that’s older than Mount Rushmore. You know what would be effective? If funny thing were written on the tampons. You know how SoBe writes amusing bits of nonsense on the underside of the lids of their drinks? Do that. Amuse me, and it will make me love your product. Hell, even just saying, “Go eat chocolate.” would please me more. But honestly, make me laugh, and I will adore your brand. Tell me ridiculous things, and it will annoy me. It will make me question your understanding of what a period is, of women and general, and how realistic it is assume that all your marketing executives were dropped on their heads as children. Or last week. Because the only explanation for thinking that is a good marketing campaign is a freakin’ concussion. Savvy?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pretend to be human for a few hours – after which, I’ll be curling up with cake. Don’t judge me: you know you want cake, too.
Today has been an odd day. This morning made me smile. I had a small moment of realization, something that caught me off guard and basically warmed my heart. If my heart gets any warmer these days, the rest of me may melt. But still. It was one of the instances where you realize that another person really sees you – and gets you. And possibly understands the way you work, when maybe you don’t.
The truth is that most people, however kind, don’t really pay attention enough to learn the little things and quirks – these bits of clockwork that make us tick. How many people can really read you like a book? How many know how many different faces you have for being sad, or what your voice sounds like when you’re anxious, but trying not to be? To an extent, it’s a matter of available history, of studying behavior over time. But another person has to pay attention, actively. You don’t learn another person passively.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: there’s something magical about having another person really see you. It’s just damn beautiful. And honestly, this little moment this morning came at a perfect time for me. Because I’ve been struggling a little with the idea of worthiness/worthlessness. A number of things have happened, over the past few months, that felt akin to reach out for a hug and having somebody slap your face. The details aren’t important (aside from the fact that I’m not going to drag them onto the internet, because…tacky). But each little incident, taken individual and as a whole, shook me up a bit. They made me wonder certain things, question myself, examine the events for possible self-blame. Because, hey, nine times out of ten, I look inward and move outward, looking to solve a problem. I will always admit when I’m wrong, although it won’t always be graceful.
This morning proved to be a good antidote to those feelings. It hasn’t been a perfect day, and I may be currently eating chocolate. I found myself missing the hell out of my mother in the middle of the afternoon. And, you know, that never gets any easier. I don’t expect it to. She was, I should mention, one of the few people who knew and really saw me. And thinking about her, I’m reminded of all the reasons I refuse to ever hold back. I was never particularly shy with my adorations to begin with. But I absolutely believe in giving everything to life, in always going after everything you want with verve and gusto. Chase something. Chase everything. Because otherwise, you’re just standing still.
I’d rather be honest and weird than dishonest and seemingly normal. Who wants to be normal? I spent a good deal of my young adult life sticking to the line of other people’s ideas. It was awful. It was the quickest way to shrink your heart up and invite fear to run (ruin) your life. The truth is, sometimes I blather a lot. I can’t always shut up. My voice will often get high pitched (an ex-friend’s dad once told me I sounded like Minnie Mouse…I never got over that, in case you were wondering). I may talk too much or too little. But you’ll never doubt that I love you. You’ll never doubt that I see you. And you’ll probably never that I’m writing this to you, write now.
So, my darlings? Be your best wicked self. Be gloriously weird. Learn your passions like the notes of a song – but don’t be afraid to rearrange them into a different composition. Dance to music, always. Show up for the people who matter. Take risks. Kiss as if the world is ending. Speak as if you have no fear. Be impossible. Be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be visible, bare, and flawed. Look people in the eye. Pick up the phone when your mother calls. Better yet: call your mother. And leave the damn dirty dishes for tomorrow. Go outside, and look at the stars.
I promise you won’t regret living, if you really allow yourself to do it. Passion only burns down the vessel that tries to contain it. But if you set it free, dear hearts, it is the beginning of every daring revolution.
Title from Andrea Gibson’s stunning poem, “Royal Heart.”
“Just to be clear
I don’t want to get out
without a broken heart.
I intend to leave this life
there better be a thousand separate heavens
for all of my separate parts.” ~Andrea Gibson
“I’m never gonna wait
that extra twenty minutes
to text you back,
and I’m never gonna play
hard to get
when I know your life
has been hard enough already.” ~Andrea Gibson
Have you ever been in a relationship where you were afraid to speak up for yourself – afraid to fight? Maybe the idea of shattering that perfect image held you back. Maybe you were afraid of the underside of a bad argument – one with hurled names and non-constructive barbs being thrown out. The trouble with being terrified, or unable, to fight (within reason) with someone you love is that sometimes fights are necessary. In order to hash things out and examine all sides, sometimes you must argue. I’ve said it before, and I believe it: when constructive communication stops, a relationship begins to die. You can fight, and have it not be easy or pretty, and still have it be beneficial to the relationship. While relationships are never entirely equal (someone always cares more, someone always have more ‘power’), it is vital to stand up for yourself – and to deal in reality.
This is where the latest episode of Scandal begins (We Do No Touch the First Ladies) – with Liv and Fitz throwing down, because guess what? This relationship was always a bit of a fantasy. It was always in the shadows and the sidelines – the open secret. Now, with Liv’s name in the news and Mellie in the know, the relationship between Liv and Fitz has become quite real. And real couples who love each other? They fight. Liv, for myriad reasons, has never quite been on equal footing with Fitz. But this fight, and a conversation later in the episode, puts them on level ground. Fitz is jealous about Jake being Liv’s fake boyfriend, trusting him to head B613, but knowing that Jake has feelings for Liv – and maybe worse yet, that Liv may have feelings for Jake – Mr. President is turning all shades of Green Eye’d Monster. Here’s the argument if you want a recap, because you know somebody’s in trouble when Liv starts counting. (Unlike the counting exchange with Edison, though, Fitz has the ability to interrupt her.)
Speaking of people with a complicated past history, this episode trots out not only Mellie’s backstory, but Andy’s – Fitz’s VP choice, because as we know, Sally Langston has gone full-on crazypants. (Seriously, few things sent more chills down my spine that Sally’s self-assured the devil killed Daniel proclamation. Girlfriend is seriously a few verses short of a psalm.) Andrew is, it turns out, charming, sweet, and a literal lifesaver. The show flashes back to a suicidal Mellie, who is wracked with grief/guilt/horror/self-blame/doubt over the fact that her father-in-law raped her…and she’s not sure whose child her son is. Does she tell this to Fitz? No. But after taking too many pills on purpose, and being saved by Andy who made her throw up and sat with her all night, she does tell Andy. While there was, certainly, a vibe between them, Mellie never cheated on Fitz, even though she and Andy clearly have kind of an amazing connection. And I’m not going to lie: once again, I’m rooting for adultery. Oops. My bad. Blame Shonda, the writers, and the damn fine actors. Because you cannot look at this situation and see black and white, there’s all kinds of grey, darlings. Because in the present day, Andrew was willing to throw himself on the media grenade in order to cover up Mellie’s drug use/attempted suicide. He didn’t even flinch or blink. He just tried like hell to protect her. And if that ain’t love, honey, I don’t know what is. Of course, Liv and OPA kill the story. But I don’t think I’m the only one who cheered when, in the present day, Andy and Mellie made out in front of Jackie Kennedy’s portrait (Ironic? Yes. Delightfully so).
Yet another relationship angle in this episode is Jake as Liv’s beard. Liv repeatedly uses him as a genie lamp, calling him to help her fix problems. While I can’t say I agree with Jake when he claimed that popcorn isn’t food (and wine isn’t beer…which is fine by me, because wine TRUMPS beer), I rather liked that he had some fake relationship demands for Liv. And if he made them while shirtless, that was basically a bonus (Scotty Folely is hot; if Felicity was on the air now, I’d be Team Noel – words my younger self never thought I’d say). Jake has consented to this fake relationship, but he’s not going to play within the lines. He constantly asserts himself, at least verbally – because has there been a time yet, where he hasn’t done with Liv asked? Nope. Because he’s not just being a patriotic Fake Boyfriend. Fitz is right to be jealous, in my humble opinion. Jake really does care for Liv.
Meanwhile, we’ve got David and Abby, who I honestly love together. David is busy helping out James (aka Publius), which almost leads to David being killed by Quinn’s main man, Charlie. (Side-note: I love/hate Quinn and Charlie together. More on that later.) Cyrus is desperately trying to quash the whole Daniel Douglas being murdered by Sally (oh, sorry – the devil inhabiting Sally)…and then covered up by Cyrus. David, however, is rescued by Abby, which was really kind of adorable. They have a really nice dynamic, and they’re adorable together.
But let’s talk about Huck for a minute. Huck is all kinds of sad, and he’s bringing Liv a cup of coffee every morning, despite the fact that Olivia doesn’t drink coffee. He just has sad, mournful puppy eyes and puts in on her desk. Eventually, she asks what’s up with the Starbucks delivery, and it comes out that he’s trying to apologize for the whole Quinn debacle…to a point. He wants Liv to forgive him, but he also points out that Liv gave him a responsibility (taking Quinn under his wing) when he isn’t a trained puppy. He’s a monster. (Apparently, everyone Liv’s monster. Cyrus used similar wording in an earlier episode. Kind of awesome, recurring theme.)
No, you went too far. You took in a wild monster, and you groomed me and petted me and trained me to sit at your feet. But that doesn’t make me a puppy, Liv. That just makes me a very loyal monster. So, I didn’t go too far. I went exactly as far as my leash allows. And you hold the leash. You ruined her life, and you made me save her. And you gave her to me, to take under my wing. You hold the leash. You went too far. You should’ve never given me something to love. Monsters eat people, Liv. It’s what we do.
Huck put a bit of the blame for Quinn’s situation squarely on Liv’s shoulders, because Huck wasn’t in a place to be someone’s mentor. He only knows how to make more monsters. And I think we can all agree that Quinn has certainly become a bit of a monster. Huck really needed to lay into Liv, here. Because he has a point. You don’t hand Hannibal Lector some fava beans and Chianti – and then ask him to babysit. Huck is mostly restrained, but that doesn’t exactly make him a good example.
Which is why Quinn is now psychotic. Initially, I assumed that Quinn was simply playing Charlie/B613 as some kind of mole. It made sense. She could skillfully go where no one else could. But now she’s pulling a gun on Liv, who was simply trying to make amends and bring her home…because Quinn was staking out Eli/Rowan (Poppa Pope). And Liv spotted her, proving how not exactly stealthy Quinn is. But Crazypants is not even remotely open to consider returning to the OPA fold. It makes me wonder if there’s some kind of angle we’re missing here. Liv looks genuinely terrified of Quinn when she pulled on gun on her. Whatever is happening, I kind of want it to stop. For one thing, I don’t think it’s entirely believable that Quinn, after only a brief time under Huck’s monster wing, is now suddenly this amazing hacker. Just as one does not simply walk in Mordor, one does not simply wake up with killer hacking skills. Or so I’m told. Anyway, we’ll see how that all shakes down, but I would like a less crazy Quinn, please – although, mad love to Katie Lowes, because she pretty much kicks ass.
I want to come full circle back to the end scene with Liv and Fitz. For the majority of this scene, Liv chooses not to look Fitz in the eye. But when she finally does, after Fitz speaks to her softly and is the side of Fitz we all know and love, he whispers, “There you are.” And it’s this oddly touching reminder that really seeing a person matters. Not just being in the same room with them, not just hearing the words coming out of their mouth – but really listening to them. Maintaining a relationship is about two things: communication and intimacy. Not just sexual intimacy, but emotional intimacy. Without it, things wither. You have to be able to be vulnerable with the person you love, just like you have to speak your mind. And Liv, in this scene, does just that. She fights not only for their relationship, but for herself. Because there is no relationship without individuality. Someone cannot be your whole world, your whole you. And that scene beautifully illustrates how far Fitz and Liv have truly come. Because this relationship is no longer a fantasy. She’s not a prize to be won at a fair. This is real. And real relationships? They’re messy. Beautifully so.
Lastly, we have to talk about Tom. The secret service agent who has been, up until this moment, unfailingly loyal to Fitz. He was the one who warned him about the Oval Office cameras. He took a bullet. He’s been the man. Except he’s fucking B613, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not okay with that. I’m also not exactly okay with the Creeper cam in the Oval being used as relationship recon by Jake. Because spying on someone is never anything less than really freaking invasive and awkward. But doing so does real that Liv isn’t exactly sure if she doesn’t have feelings for Jake. Which means she does, because it’s never really that you don’t know if you do – it’s that you don’t know how deep they are. But that’s a soapbox for another day.
Rounding out the episode and the theme of reality versus fantasy, we find that Harrison’s criminal, nefarious, but altogether stunning ex-girlfriend (boss? Who knows. Not me.) is working with Liv’s mom. Basically, we’ve got two supervillains teamed up, doing hell knows what. But I’m certainly that we’ll find out sometime soon. Nothing in this show is ever quite how it initially seems. But one thing is for certain: dirty little secrets always come out.
Have you ever seen the way a bird makes a nest? It grabs little bits and bobs of things, bringing them back to the spot it’s chosen, and fashions a home out of other things. Sometimes, the bird gathers bits of branches, and other times, it hauls back a selection of string. Whatever is gathered is woven together with the utmost care. There are, undoubtedly, some rough edges. The nest isn’t always perfectly round. It’s all found items and creativity, founded on instinct, hard work, and wiggling things to suit a particular space. Each piece serves a purpose. The goal is simple: creation.
To me, that is how a poem is made. You start by gathering. Sometimes, it’s just an idea you want to convey. Sometimes, it’s a feeling. Sometimes, you overhear something that leaves its fingerprints on the moment – or your heart – and you need to explore it. It’s emotional theft, sometimes. You steal feelings/inspiration from everywhere you can, like a Magpie. Moments. Glances. Situations. The underside of someone else’s heartbeat. And you fashion that inspiration into a trail of words, creating something new.
Writing poetry is all about feeling something (see Keating’s speech in Dead Poets Society). It’s also about examining some aspect of life in all its crazy incarnations, twists, and sideways moments. If you read a poem and it resonates – that’s a good poem. It’s like life: a moment that makes you feel something down to the roots of your teeth is a moment that matters. It doesn’t have to be a perfect emotion. Your heart might feel like it’s playing the bongos on your ribs. Your pulse could feel like it’s trying to murder you. But there’s a reaction. You know, without a doubt, that something is happening to you.
Poems, of course, don’t spring up out of thin air. No piece of writing does. There’s a person behind the pen. This will come as a shock, but: every writer writes different. There’s no one size fits all. There’s no correct answer. Writing isn’t math. And thank god, because math is evil. But I digress. With poetry, a lot of times, there are a thousand different ways to create something. Some poets are confessional (Plath – and I’d argue Ted Hughes, in his later work). Others bare themselves in a less personal fashion, which is why it’s important to never confuse a poet with a poem’s voice. That happens a lot in poetry. But if you read Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover, you’d be ill-advised to assume that Browning is into autoerotic asphyxiation, which is a method of interpretation the piece – positing that the speaker accidentally murdered his lover in flagrante. Point being: you cannot always read a poem as a mirror.
At its core, I believe that poetry is passion, distilled in a heap of words. It’s a heartbeat captured in a bottle, shown off to the world. A poem that makes someone remember something, that conjures an old ghost, that turns an idea of its head, or that simply makes someone think – that’s effective. Joan Didion famously wrote, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” And I couldn’t agree more. It’s important to examine life from every angle, otherwise, we’re not really paying attention, are we?
So, this is all a rather lengthy ramble, leading up to this: I wrote a book of poetry. It’s called I Don’t Love You Pretty. The poems are an examination of love in its less pristine incarnations, where it’s not all shiny or pristine – it’s a mess, but it’s a wonderful mess. The Greek myth of Theseus centers around a labyrinth. Eventually, Theseus finds his way out of maze by following a ball of string. To me, that’s a perfect metaphor for love. Sometimes, it’s the maze in which we find ourselves trapped. Other times, it’s the ball of string – the thing that leads us to safety. Love doesn’t have to be easy or safe – it just has to be worth the mess. So, if you’ve ever been in love – and seen beauty in its mess – check out my book. Who knows – it just might make you feel something.