Life Without A Title

Summer is winding down now. I’ve been so irresponsible. It’s fantastic. It’s terrifying. Who am I? It’s been a while since I’ve asked. Since I’ve wondered. I am not a fundraiser. I am no longer an Executive Director at somewhere at [insert proper noun Here]. I am not a title, not an annual income. Not an easy catch phrase for people at parties or in passing. How distressing. How does one create value without a title in this culture? I’m being serious! I have, for example, never once introduced myself as a writer. Hello there, I’m a writer! Why yes, I am a poet! I can’t imagine. I only feel like a writer when I am at the desk, doing this. Type, type, type. Usually I cop to it later when I’ve known someone a while. And then maybe once in a while I brag. Like when I get something published. I get excited, I can’t help myself. I spill the beans. I am gleeful and immature and go running to the nearest friend. Guess what? Sigh. But still. Being a writer is only in the doing. At least for me. So pretty much I’m at square one. Titleless. Or too many titles it’s meaningless: partner, mother, writer, bike rider, dancer, walker, et al.

Jennifer Harris

Author of PINK! and resident Poetry Editor, Jennifer Harris, is an active literary organizer and served on the Board of Trustees for the Poetry Center of Chicago. She earned her MFA in Writing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

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New Beginnings

I quit my job!

It’s true. I’m officially a stay at home mom. A stay at home mom working on her dissertation, starting a biz with her partner, writing, and maybe doing some stray fundraising-consulting. Oh and don’t forget the monks. The monks are coming again in October. The Tibetan monk of Drepung Gomang Monastery. I worked with a friend of mine, David Wellman, so this time the gang will be at DePaul University for a week making a sand mandala and chanting.

We live in a smallish two-bedroom condo right on the lake. Can’t beat the views. Last time we tried to house the ten monks, it was just a bit too squishy. Mostly it was a disaster due to our dog, Henry, who barks…let me just say that meditating and dog barking are not a great combination.

I feel so superficial and free. I feel 1950s. I should get a bouffant hairdo. Buy some saddle shoes. Giddy up! It’s a bit scary to let go of my own self-sufficiency. I never thought I’d be able to trust that much. To allow it. To receive. How odd. How frightening and terrifying and all those other ‘y-ings. But I get that much more time with Sophie, our daughter. 4.5 going on 40. Seriously. Spit fire, that girl. Yesterday it was, “G (that’s Susan’s name – meaning “guardian”), my friends at school exhaust me, can I stay home today?” She’s speaking to the choir, two introverts. Me more so than G, though that is a running debate in our household.

The good news? Well, besides the above I have finally figured out the next book project. And that is thrilling in a secretive sort of way…like shhhh, don’t tell. Not until it’s fully baked. I’m sure other writers know what I mean. It’s sort of a don’t kiss and tell thing. Its sort of an ‘it might suck so just wait’ thing. Who can say? Not me. For sure.

I’m about to board a plane and go to CA to see some gals from high school. We’ve known each other since 1984. Freshmen in high school. Geeky with braces and glasses. Minus the braces and I’m not too much different except a few stray grays that are starting to show at my temples. Funny but my red is turning a big gray. I have at least two strands that I am thrilled about. I love gray hair. It is so elegant. I can never understand why people dye their hair. Why they think it’s old or ugly or unseemly somehow. It’s grace. It’s beauty. It’s dignity. We are growing old. We are not old or elderly yet, but mid-life, such a joy. Such a freedom. I hope I live to see Sophie at this age. I wonder who she’ll be. How she will be in the world.

Jennifer Harris

Author of PINK! and resident Poetry Editor, Jennifer Harris, is an active literary organizer and served on the Board of Trustees for the Poetry Center of Chicago. She earned her MFA in Writing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

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Lake Michigan

I couldn’t tell you why but the lake always reminds me of Whistler. The painter. Not an action, not a verb. But the dark, shadowy Thames. His Nocturne series are, I think, perhaps the most eloquent of paintings. And every day it is dark and overcast, I get to see his painting looking across the park, to the lake. Through my window I can see it all. It’s as if Whistler is here, beside me. He points and says, see that dot, right there, where the moon is peaking out. That damn dot took me seventy-two hours to get right. I can imagine. I know how he feels. Trying to get it right. Which is more difficult, color or words? A brush or a keyboard? Color, like language, is impossible to measure—each word interpreted with slightly different meaning, by each person who approaches language with their own distinct experiences that define their comprehension of the world, of relating to ‘other.’

Color, as perceived by the eyes. Do we really see the same colors? I doubt it. I know, for example, that everyone else sees a 3-D world where I see only a 2-D painting. The world truly is flat when you have no depth perception. The sky, the distance, always looks like a fine painting to me because there is no depth to it. As if I could reach out and brush my hand against the canvas. I suppose it informs my understanding of the world. Or misunderstanding since no one else I know sees it quite the same way.

Jennifer Harris

Author of PINK! and resident Poetry Editor, Jennifer Harris, is an active literary organizer and served on the Board of Trustees for the Poetry Center of Chicago. She earned her MFA in Writing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

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Matt Clemens

Matt Clemens died. The one I wrote about in my last article. How strange. It’s been months since I’ve been in touch with you all. I feel like these are letters. A sort of love letter to the universe. A thanksgiving. A chance for grace. And today I am in mourning. Again. Can you believe? I feel like I lost a brother this time. I’m not sure how other people’s youth went, but mine was a bit self-destructive. I was full of self-loathing as a youth, a young adult. I grew out of it, but I still have my doubts. On occasion. I think it keeps me honest. Matt believed in me when I didn’t. He saved my life. I mean that literally. I know that death is just another beginning, but it’s still sad. He’s going to be missed. By his kind wife, Teresa, by his friends, all those other people he helped over so many years. I will miss his brilliant insights into things I just barely understand.

I have often wondered if memory has a weight. If there is a sort of gravity that holds people and thoughts together. If somehow we are bound together through time, experience, and place. I like to think this is true. That dark matter is somehow the holder of all our thoughts. The mass we cannot measure is displaced time, full of the beauty of memory. Of memories building and colliding and living over and over.

In that way, death is just a perception. But I think perhaps this is true regardless of the larger, conditioned existence. DNA, for example, never extinguishes. So our very core essence remains. What does that mean? That our fabric, the genetic make-up of who and what we are always remains and that science has already proven this to be true. Not only that but they have also proven String Theory, the fact that there are multiple dimensions of time and space co-existing with the here and now. If only I had better vision. I should be clairvoyant so I could see my friend, Matt, again. So I could wave to my Uncle Oleg. But I am limited by gravity. I am limited by my own ego. My own sense of self and the limits I have conditioned myself to respond to. I wish I could strip down to the bare nothingness.

That way, I would never miss anyone I love. We would all be together in our purest formation. We would be perfect. We would hold one another. We would be held in pure light. A stunning brilliance. We shine together, as one.

All of us.

Pure.

Jennifer Harris

Author of PINK! and resident Poetry Editor, Jennifer Harris, is an active literary organizer and served on the Board of Trustees for the Poetry Center of Chicago. She earned her MFA in Writing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

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Is Butch Dead?

I am—Butch. I always have been. I never questioned it. It is what it is. When I was a kid, I wanted to wear denim and blue flannel. My parents’ efforts to convert me to pink and dresses were futile. They figured this out pretty early. They really didn’t force the issue-too much. I still wear blue flannel and denim and—kick ass boots. I never tried to be Butch, I was, I am. Sure, the occasional square old lady would call me, sir. Androgyny and Grunge sort of put a stop to that. All hair was longish, all clothes were formless. Confused the squares. Those were good years.

The pioneer butches who wore suits and skinny ties, they had it tough. We plaid types and our woollen cap wearing successors, much easier. We blend more. We stand on the shoulders of those women who risked life and limb to be who and what they were, on their terms.

God bless the Butches and Nelly Queens.

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