Oxygen

(In other news, I started Grad School in Western Colorado University – MFA is Creative Writing)

My beginning steps as a weaver of stories 

I had learned to walk. I made up stories about a sentiment colony of bees and ants. I was the queen’s personal spy, on a mission. Walking around the Synagogue grounds, telling myself stories of my adventures. There were no labels, no genres. We told scary tales in the playground. Sometimes we found hidden treasure in the sand (a lot of us had grown up watching Indiana Jones). Sometimes we were on airplanes, careful not to get our feet bombed. 

We moved. Different country, different language. I knew the ABC’s, cat, dog, water, excuse me. I traced the perimeter of the playground, alone in my mind. I wore red and yellow and had a bowl cut. Clearly, I was still in the eighties, but those new kids were not – the future was pink, and neon, Skipies and My Little Pony. When my father’s salary kicked in, my mother took me to Toys-r-Us. I got a pony and a kooshball. My ponies had many misadventures, and I played with dolls until society considered me too old, but I continued playing in my head. And on paper. My first “book” in English was about an anthropomorphic puppy seeking friends. I guess it was autobiographical. I was miserable, bullied, and lonely, but I didn’t know that. I was busy exploring the world around me, living around the edges. I wasn’t distracted by the kids who put glue in my hair, or by the fact that I’d rather pee my pants than ask for a hall pass and use the restroom located in a different classroom. The teacher yelled at me and tore my drawing; you see, I’d drawn the frog in the wrong order – face before feet, and it was more important for me to listen and learn the words, because I didn’t know English. Everyone laughed. I was upset about the frog. It had not only been a good illustration, but as I was drawing it I gave it a name and a story and a life. And now it was dead, ripped to shreds while everyone around me laughed. Stupid, stupid immigrant girl with a weird name, and a weird haircut and an accent, who refused to cry. I cracked my lips and busted my chin running to the school bus and falling on ice. On the bus, the eight graders tore to pieces my handmade doll. And still, I didn’t know I was miserable. It was snowing, and everything outdoors was magical. I found friends: the ADHD boys, the misfits, the outcasts, the ones who didn’t bother to fight for the swings on the playground but preferred to hang out in the long stretch of grass under the trees and make up stories. I’m still in touch with some of those pals, and they keep showing up in weird places in my life. “Were you not that new kid who was obsessed with penguins?” Yup, that was me. That year I was an explorer to the South Pole. I made a beak from papier mache’, and my father took me to the Bronx zoo, where I stood next to the penguin pond for an hour and called out to them until a curious one came to talk to me. I read books like they were oxygen.

Where I am

Some members of my family think this is an indulgence. An expensive one. Irresponsible, for a mother of children who are creeping up into high school. It is not a survival skill, is what I sense they feel. You know, something that brings in the money, the food, something that will save you when they come for us (they always do). My mother-in-law says it is my turn, and I should seize it and go for it, no apologies. And whatever my parents think, my MFA is about survival. There is something in me, and it needs to come out. It wants to be heard. It wants to be alive. And what it will do is be the oxygen, not just for me, but for those who walk the edges, those who will hear it and breathe it in their minds.

Perfectionism

It is a voice that shows me this bright, shiny, pink and neon thing that is too far away to reach. It puts glue in my hair. It trips me; I break my feet. I can’t walk. I must ask for favors. I must be dependent. I must beg – my friends, the muses, random strangers. It is the doctors in the hospitals injecting me with the medicine that will save my baby and will slowly kill my heart. Give it to me. I’ll do anything. I’d walk the knife. I’m paralyzed and tired and scared. 

But then I find the weird ones again.

Where I’m going

My brother-in-law is researching how to extract oxygen on Mars. Writing feels to me rather like that. I know the oxygen is there, I know there is a way. Coming to GPCW at Western feels very much like I’m getting the theory and practice, of how to extract my oxygen. I’m not navigating alone in the dark anymore. There are instructors who truly care. There are friends – writers, poets, screenwriters – to share meals and jokes with. It feels like I came home, stranger in strange land no more. I fiercely adore my crew, and we are going to help each other. I found my weird ones again, my survival pod.


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