Poem a Day Challenge: An Update, After the Hospital

Two weeks into my challenge, an update — on the poems, and the week I spent in the hospital.

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The good news: I have (so far) succeeded in writing one poem every day throughout August, as planned.

The also-good news: I did this even while in the hospital for a whole week.

The not-so-good news: I was, in fact, in the hospital for a whole week.

To break it down:

  1. The “(so far)” is because I…haven’t written a poem yet today (whoops). But every other day this month, I wrote a poem — sometimes a long one, sometimes a short one; sometimes a halfway-decent one! Sometimes a really, really awful one. One day, I wrote three poems.

  2. Yes, I wrote a poem every day while in the hospital. I didn’t have a laptop or a phone (my preferred method for writing since at least 2011)…I didn’t even have a pen. I had my small notebook (given to me by my friend, it’s small and adorable and every time I look at it, I feel like I should be holed up in a cozy library room on a biiiig poofy chair), and I had a marker, and that’s about it. But I made it work. I have no idea if I’ll be able to re-read what I wrote when the time comes to transcribe the poems. But I did it!

  3. The hospital: Last Thursday, I went to the emergency room. I wanted to check into the behavioral health unit (layman’s terms: the psych ward). This would be my fourth visit. In six years. Should I be disappointed? Should I be…resigned, like this is just a facet of my life going forward? Should I be tired (I am, regardless)? I think it’s all of the above — I am accepting that this is my life and I live with a chronic illness, and yet that is disappointing, and of course, I cannot not be tired (I am always tired). At the same time, I feel…victorious.

Why victorious?

Because asking for help is freaking hard. Because checking into a locked unit, where they take your phone, your laptop, your clothes, your literal undergarments, and give you paper clothes to wear and strange meals to eat and structure your every hour around group therapy and activities and —

To prove it: here’s my hospital wristband. Also my tattoos, which I love forever.

To prove it: here’s my hospital wristband. Also my tattoos, which I love forever.

It’s so much.

It's so much and it’s so terrifying to voluntarily give up so much of your independence.

But I did it, because I realized that without it, if I didn’t make that small sacrifice, I might end up sacrificing a million things more.

I would sacrifice my sanity, my relationships, my job. I would sacrifice my future career. I may, in the end, have sacrificed my life.

All at the altar of not giving up my independence.

Is it worth it? Would it have been worth it?

I don’t know man, the fear was…so intense.

In fact, my poem for last Thursday (the day I checked in), reads

Fear

Seeping in through all the cracks 
Filtering into every thought 
Polluting the very soul until 

Until it's all cracked, creased with dirt.

That’s it, that’s the poem. Just four lines, pretty clichéd, but honest.

And this is the part where I remind you that if you donate at least $15 to one of the charities that I’ll list below (note the addition!), you can get your very own selection of poems from this month! Including very many Hospital Poems.

Please email me or comment here with questions or to know more/suggest organizations! Love to hear from y’all.

Poem a Day Challenge: August 2019

For a rundown/”too long; didn’t read” breakdown, jump to the bullet points at the end of this post!

I’ve always been a poet as much as I was a novelist or an essayist; in fact, sometimes I was even more of a poet than anything else.

“Was” being the operative word here. Since graduating college in May 2015, I’ve found myself writing less and less poetry and more and more prose. Which is fine! In that time, I’ve written three whole novels, crafting numerous drafts of each one and doing my best to perfect them. I’ve written essays and articles for my blog, other blogs, websites, newspapers.

But I haven’t written poetry.

And this month, I want to change that.

Every day this month, the goal is to write one poem. It could be a three-line free-verse about the sunset or a whole sestina about deep and complicated feelings or anything in between. I just want to get back into the habit of writing poetry, of viewing the world through that lens.

I think it made me a better prose writer, and honestly it made me happier in general when I was looking for the beauty, the music and poetry in everything from the mundane to the glorious.

(As a side note, I also want to read more poetry going forward, so if you have suggestions of amazing poets, PLEASE leave their names in the comments or email me!)

Back to my challenge: it was supposed to be just for me. It was going to me just for me. And then I read a newsletter by writer Eva Recinos, and inspiration struck: what if I used my writing, my poem-a-day challenge, to fundraise for causes I care about.

A specific cause that has been on my heart a lot of late is immigration. Between images and videos of where asylum-seekers are being held at the border, images of parents and their children in the worst of situations before they even cross the border, news of money from Congress being sent toward building a wall along the border, my heart has twisted and bled. It bleeds especially for children: for children who had no choice in what is happening to them, who believed their parents’ belief they would find a better life, who wound up separated and scared, alone and sick, in conditions that are far from humane.

In the world, not just in America, we have a crisis, one that’s been going on for years. My hometown in Italy has whole sectors filled with refugees seeking asylum. They’re from a different part of the world than the ones coming to America, but their situation is similar: they experienced hopelessness, and they fled, hoping to find something better somewhere.

I’ve never experienced the horror and devastation on the scale these refugees are suffering, but I can relate to feeling hopeless and trapped and despondent, as though life will never get better, and fleeing to find a fresh start somewhere else. And if I hadn’t had the combination of people helping me plus people not actively seeking to stop me, I wouldn’t have survived.

There are reasons, politically, why I think the current situation at our southern border is wrong. Even more, there are reasons why I think it’s unconscionable. No human deserves to be treated the way asylum-seekers have been. No human deserves to treat another the way we are treating desperate men, women, and children.

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And so, I’ve wanted to do more. I’ve donated to select organizations, and I’ve sent some emails to my representatives in Congress, but it’s not enough. In fact, nothing short of packing up my life and moving to Texas to, somehow, actively fight for change seemed like enough. And that is…not feasible.

And then I had an idea. It hit me like thunder, a loud crack following a flash of light.

I could do my poem-a-day challenge. I would use this month to encourage friends, family members, followers, strangers online, to donate to certain organizations working to help asylum-seekers, protect children, make a difference. And anyone who sends me proof of their $15+ donation will, at the end of the month, receive an e-version of the best poems (at least 15, possibly up to a full chapbook-size of 23-30).

I’m collaborating with my good friend and fellow poet Chi Oham during the month. She will also be writing poems, and I’ve begged of her to let me include several in the final compilation. I’m also trying to finalize whether I can get artwork donated to match the poems.

You should check out Chi’s website. Her work is lovely and evokes such powerful images and feelings; she’s incredibly talented, smart in a million ways, kind and hilarious. I cannot, simply cannot, speak highly enough of her as a person and a poet. And if she’s reading this, she’s likely cursing me for embarrassing her but IT’S TRUE THESE ARE ALL TRUE THINGS.

So now for a breakdown of the details. I know I’ve said a lot and thank you for reading along!

  • Me: writing one poem every day for 31 days, sharing my progress on this blog and sometimes in Instagram stories and posts.

  • Chi, writing poems as well.

  • You, donating at least $15 to one of the below organizations and sending me a receipt screenshot or other proof:

  • At the end of the month, I’ll spend some time collecting and curating the best poems before sending out the collection.

    • Feel free to continue donating and sending me receipts during the intervening time; there’s really no hard cutoff, so if the month of August is a hard one financially, that’s okay, there’s always September. Or October. November. Etc.

    • If $15 is too high for you, reach out to me.

  • If you want to donate but don’t want poetry? That’s still great! I just want to do what I can to encourage and inspire people.

I welcome questions and comments and would love to hear from anyone. You can contact me through this site, you can message me on Twitter or Facebook, you can drop a comment below…you can talk to me in-person if we cross paths and you feel that’s the best way to chat!

I am thrilled about this project I’m embarking on and simultaneously filled with nerves that it’ll flop, that I’ll be raked over the coals for trying and failing. I have to tell myself that it’s worth it — because it is, I believe in this and I believe in using my art and writing to effect positive change in the world.

This is one way I’m trying to do that.

Hope to hear from some of y’all, even if just with questions! Much love from me to you <3

Pentatonix + Madison Square Garden = Best First Concert (Ever!)

A clear stage, superimposed with technicolor moving images. Five musicians, each talented in their own unique and, to be honest, mind-blowing ways, dressed in outfits that coordinate but don’t match perfectly. A New York crowd already primed for a good show, thanks to openers Citizen Queen and to Rachel Platten. All coming together on a Thursday night at Madison Square Garden: iconic, legendary concert venue.

All signs point to the MSG stop on the Pentatonix World Tour being nothing short of E P I C.

All signs were so, so freaking right.

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

It was while I was in Mexico that I got this random urge to listen to Pentatonix’s music. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for me — I’ve harbored a sideline fandom for the group for years, and every once in a while said fandom spikes. I was watching their YouTube videos and of course the ads for their World Tour were just…right there.

I didn’t think it was realistic, to be honest. I’d never been to a concert, much less one for a group I adored, much less one at Madison Square Garden. I just assumed the tickets would cost $100+, I could look at it and laugh at how silly I was for daring to dream, and keep crying over how beautifully produced their music videos are.

I mean really. This is just unfair. Plus they sound like angels.

Obviously — that’s not what happened (LOL). I guess I have some preconceived concert notions.

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But enough about the backstory. Let’s talk about the story.

First things first, the opener for Pentatonix is this five-member a cappella group called Citizen Queen, who, from what I could tell in my post-concert research, kind of burst onto the scene in December with a cover video of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” and are now killing it as the opening act for Pentatonix.

They brought so much energy onto the stage and were so joyous and just…listen, this word kept running through my mind all through the concert, which was “high-octane,” and I was like, Ugh, Karis, don’t use that in your post, it’s so clichė, but at the same time it really feels like the best word.

The energy on that stage, the joy, the sheer desire to be there and happiness about it and borderline disbelief but also determination to fully crush it: this is what it’s about.

And that’s what I got from Pentatonix’s set as well. There was this moment, right after Kevin Olusola finished doing an omg-holy-cow-wow celloboxing (watch the video, for real) solo, and as a crowd we were losing our COLLECTIVE MIND because I just…I don’t have the words to describe what it was like to watch that in person.

But anyway, the point is, after he finished and the whole stadium was erupting in cheers and applause and it just went on and on, he just sat there for a second and just…took it in. And it dawned on me: this is a big deal for them.

Which, like, I should’ve known, right? I, concert novice that I was, recognized how exciting it was to go to Madison Square Garden for a concert. But I just looked at this group, who’ve been together eight years now, who have released multiple albums and won Grammys and traveled the world performing, and assumed: they’re living their dream. They’ve done it all, and there’s nothing else they want to do but haven’t yet.

And I was wrong. I mean they said it, multiple times. Kevin and Scott (Hoying) both told the crowd later just how mind-blowing it was to be able to perform in that space. And Matt Sallee, the newest member of the group, mentioned how when the group was first created and were performing on the competition show The Sing-Off, he watched them and thought about how he wished to someday sing with them.

So there he was. Last night. Performing with them. At Madison Square Garden.

And I just…it hit me. So hard. So beautifully. Getting to this point for this group, it’s taken a lot of hard work — I mean, they’ve been at it eight years!

But they did it. So…it made me feel like I can do it, too. It made me feel like, yeah, sure, I’m not where I want to be with my writing yet. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never get there.

It’s a beautiful feeling, to be able to take hope in someone else’s success, rather than despair. Usually when I see others’ success, whether that’s in writing or acting or art of any other kind; or in being really talented in a field I have no interest in, even, it bums me out.

Not last night. Last night it lifted me up.

And one more thing.

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Rachel Platten performed as well. Her set was just…can I say refreshing? Can I be clichė again? Rachel danced around that stage like it was hers, like she didn’t care what anyone thought and never had, and I found myself thinking — I want this energy. I want this confidence.

And then she stopped. And she told us that less than two hours before then she’d been sobbing backstage, sure she couldn’t perform. And then she performed this most beautiful song, “You Belong,” written for and about her newborn baby, and I…it was so beautiful. She told us, “You do not need to be perfect to be loved,” and I gasped (yes, really, and dramatically) and leaned back in my seat, crying.

After she shared with us the backstory of her incredibly popular “Fight Song,” and then when she performed it, I just…I bawled. I was trying to sing along, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t even do it.

I feel broken so often these days, guys. I feel like I’m wading through mud carrying heavy burdens on a back screaming in pain. I feel like I can’t do it.

And that set reminded me: push through it. Carry on. Fight on. There are people fighting with me, cheering me on. I have the strength to make it — or I wouldn’t have made it this far already.

Yes, life is hard. Guys, it’s so hard. Just when it seems like things are getting better, something hits me again and it’s like…how do I even deal with this? Where do I go from here?

Forward. Onward. Upward. Always.

Fight on, lovelies. If Rachel Platten can do it, if Pentatonix can do it, if I can do it, you can do it, too. Give me a holler if you need to chat — here, or Twitter — or talk to a friend or a therapist or sit down (or stand up, I don’t know what kind of movement your dream might entail!) and get it done. Let’s all get it done.