Woman-monster

“A woman in the shape of a monster

a monster in the shape of a woman

the skies are full of them”

Adrienne Rich, Planetarium

I want to learn the star-stories again. This weekend Orion hung over us as we drove back through the pass. A warm spring with hint of summer in her teeth, dirty snow at the road edge, a garden of ink. I want more mythology and scraped skin and calluses. I want to become a monster.

I tell stories in a scattered way. If it’s a story I know, I throw in names and places without reference points, I assume the audience knows the path and I barge forward. If it’s a story I’ve been told, I forget names almost as a matter of course. Is it Perseus or Theseus? It was Andromeda chained, not Ariadne, right? Ariadne was the princess with the Minotaur, the woman who gave the spool to unravelling, the lover of Icarus, right? Or Theseus? The names jumble and I remember bright slashes instead of the whole tapestry.

I am at a job right now where I feel I’ve become dumber. I push papers and I make sure contracts are signed and I don’t know that I’ve learned anything that’s really that noteworthy.  On Monday I’m changing to a new place, and I hope I get to dig in to technology again, to learn how things piece together. Is it strange to want to learn programming languages because I feel like it helps me write? I don’t really want to program anything. I don’t really care about databases. But I like the syntax, I like the logic.

LeavenworthPimpsqeak

This weekend, hiding away from the strong climbers, I chatted with another new boulderer about poetry. “It just doesn’t feel active enough” I heard myself say as I tried to figure out the first move on a V0, and it felt like I was reading a script. Why aren’t I writing? I say that it feels to dull on the page, that it’s not motion and I want motion. And yet, when given the chance, I spent most of the day standing still, watching other people move. He was excited to find out more about the poetry scene in Seattle, but I feel like what I told him was all old news, the world as it existed three years ago. So much has changed. And I say it’s because I’m climbing, but here I am, working on something a child just tried. I’m no climber. (And my ego rears her head, and she stomps me down into small pieces, and I am nothing, this is a farce, girl what are you doing here you foolish not-even-woman.)

And yet. And yet, when I read in January, I looked out and saw the friends I’m used to seeing in the gym. And I stood and I shook and I stumbled and I loved it. How is that not active? It was more exposing than a heel hook with torn pants would have been. And stop yelling at yourself. Breathe. Put your hand on the rock and just fall when you have to fall – no one is judging.

It’s so frightening for me to give voice to want. To say, out loud- This. World, I want This Thing. But I feel a yawning opening toothy want inside me, and it’s crawling out of my throat whether I feel ok with it or not. Want. I want. I want to become a monster. A star woman. (I am shrouding this all in metaphor, I know. I am still evading. I am still refusing to claim anything as mine.) The problem with wanting is that you risk undoing. You risk losing. A goal is something I can fall shy of. A goal is something I can miss, I can fail.

All I thought I wanted was a book of my own. Something that I created, put in this world, in other people’s hands. That feels less important now. But I can become a monster who is not a book, and this is not failing.  I am not writing a book. I am hanging up that piece of me for now, and that’s ok.

My goal—to fall. To fall and fall and fall and fall.

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Anne Carson and Robert Currie: Attending EgoCircus

I’ve never been to a one-night, star-studded workshop before, and I’ve never been in a workshop with someone I’ve held on such a high pedestal as Anne Carson.  I was beyond nervous going into the thing—reading and re-reading the workshop description to make sure I would arrive with everything I needed (nothing) and that I had the time correct (I did).

I didn’t expect her to be so entirely likable.  When she speaks it’s slowly, with thought, but her whole presence is laughter.  I didn’t expect to leave the workshop questioning everything I used to value.

Let me backtrack.  When I found out that Anne Carson was coming to Seattle, I bought tickets immediately.  And then the email went out—presale signup for a 3 hour workshop with Anne Carson and her collaborator, Robert Currie.  I responded immediately and snagged one of the seats.  I didn’t put much thought into the “Writing workshop without Writing” part of the description—I had a chance to be in a room with Anne Carson and I took it.

The reading wasn’t a reading, but a performance of two lyric essays and a premier of performance inspired by Cycladic Sculptures. For as much as I love Carson’s work, I don’t think I’d ever heard her read before—her voice startled me.  The performance was at points mesmerizing and at points distracting—at points full of tension in an interesting way and at points full of tension in an uncomfortable way.  Sitting between my aunt and uncle, very used to this type of event, and G-, very not-used to this event, I found the funny moments even funnier in their oddity.  I think I giggled a lot, both aloud and silently. When it ended the four of us walked into the balmy Seattle night with a volley of comfortable conversation—I was elated and by the time I walked into my apartment I was distracted in the best giddy kind of way.

Jump cut to the workshop—I showed up early but not too early (carefully timed) and the folding chairs slowly filled up.  Mostly women, mostly in their late 30s, early 40s? I’m terrible at ages, but everyone seemed, for the most part, slightly older than me. I don’t really know what I expected, but I was surprised at the lack of diversity.  We were all in our uniforms and it read as such.  I felt both overdressed and underdressed. Too polished. Makeup was a bad idea. I should have worn flats instead of heels, what was I thinking. It’s a workshop, none of this matters. But you could tell it did—we women broke out our Statement Earrings and our Flattering Yet Simple Dresses.  Not everyone, I’m making a gross generalization of course.  But still.

Currie started with a video clip of a previous performance—the dancer went off script and began to dance a solo behind Anne and Currie.  They only found out when someone sent them the tape—what a happy accident! And then, let’s begin.  The workshop, of course, will be collaboration. But first—as we hand out scraps of paper with marks on them, how many were at the performance last night? All hands raise. And, what didn’t work?

Dead silence. We, as a group, are supposed to critique the piece? The piece written by the illustrious Anne Carson? And Currie casually asks us, what didn’t work?  One of the two men finally spoke up—I was annoyed at the game of the new piece.  And then it began.

It is comfortable for me to slip into workshop. I love getting to the point in a discussion where you get past the beauty– where everyone agrees to say fine, the piece has beauty, that’s a given.  But how do we tweak it to make it stronger, better? What isn’t working, and how do we make this work? And I jumped into the fray, and it felt good. High hopes!

In retrospect, I see where I went wrong.  I signed up for a workshop on collaboration thinking it would be more about movement—I wanted to see if it would help me thread together the things in my life. Weave climbing into poetry into art, find a way of uniting the various versions of myself into a Grand Performance.  Ludicrous hope.

What I confronted was my inability to collaborate. Chaos makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like silence.  My discomfort grew throughout the night.  The first two pieces were small enough that they felt like actual conversations—I can handle conversations.  Create: Abyss and String as a duet.  A- and I used our bodies to create a fall into the abyss—she fell back into my arms (you’re a climber, she said, I trust you to catch me) and trailed her arm after like a string. Create: Abyss and String as a quartet, using your duet and adding language.  We joined our duet with the women next to us and created a chorus of voices to transpose our motion into language. The result was actually beautiful, and C-‘s last minute ending, repeating the final line in syncopation, was the perfect thing that I had nothing to do with.

A collaborative text.

A collaborative text.

Create: Gertrude Stein and Camping. Cue: discomfort. We stood in a circle, 5 of us now, chattering with wide eyes.  That’s not entirely true—no one looked panicked, but as we talked and talked I could feel my own panic rising. Where is the performance? What is the performance? We need a beginning, and a plan, and then an ending. What is Gertrude Stein and Camping? We can stamp for punctuation, we can assemble chairs, we can—why aren’t you saying anything?  Cue: woman being difficult. I’ve actively avoided Stein. Fine. But do something. Anything. I don’t know her work. It doesn’t matter. That group will do something like dancing, that group is writing furiously, and we’re here, talking. What are we going to do? Why am I the only one talking? Why am I directing this and—minute left—we need something. Here. This, we will do this.

I collaborate poorly because I am bossy. I fill silent spaces with words and direction, I strong-arm chaos into structure.  I also dislike improv games and I am uncomfortable being in front of anyone in theater.  These two things are at odds when the object is to perform and the group is in chaos.  Currie said of his collaborators, In the end, its people we like. You have to trust them. I don’t know that I like me. I’m uncomfortable and awkward.  I want to be the kind of person that throws her body to the floor and can spontaneously burst into sound, but at the same time I mistrust that person.  Too showy, too out of touch with motion that is relevant to the larger world, not just this room, and this art, and this moment.

I had hoped the workshop would help me understand how to unify the pieces of myself a little better, and instead I came home shattered into more pieces.  One piece that mistrusts workshop, another that relishes in the ability to dig in.  One that is angry with the way I take over, another that feels totally right and justified.  I text C- in my jumbled state and he writes back Maybe you’ve just outgrown workshop and I think no, no, no, I still know so very little.

The Edge of Hedge

The Edge of Hedge

There were amazing moments, of course.  It was a workshop with Anne Carson, how could their not be, as Nicelle says, magic? Towards the end, at a break, I even worked up the courage to ask can I give you something? Sure. And I handed Currie and Anne a print from this summer, and stumblingly explained that I’m trying to find a way to connect my physicality with my text with my art.  They nodded solemnly and took my gift kindly and let me walk away before I turned any deeper shade of flushed.  At one point we had to bring back an Edge, and when I held our group’s leaf out (The Far Edge of a Hedge) she said you should make a print of it. Of course I will.

I’m not sorry I went, but while I was worried Anne Carson would disappoint me, it’s myself I find lacking.  Maybe that’s the way it should go when meeting an idol—we idolize people we aspire to be, so of course it forces a mirror in front of our faces.  Idols ask us—who are you? I am the woman who stood awkwardly at the end, hugged A- and said nice to meet you with no real way of getting in touch with her, butted into a conversation with Currie to say thank you, and scurried out the door.

In the end, I’m not sure.  I felt out of step with the rest of the writers in the workshop and it’s an echo of the way I felt during AWP.  Maybe I just don’t belong anymore—but if I’m not a poet, what am I? It’s been part of the way I identify for so long that I suspect the loss of Poet as moniker is more destabilizing than an uncomfortable minute long performance of Gertrude Stein and Camping.  Somehow, even though I’m feeling sort of shattered right now, Anne Carson gives me hope.  She is, after all, Anne Carson– just that seems hopeful to me. And she has a wonderful laugh.

——

Quick update: A– works with a good friend of mine! I love small world Seattle, and I hope to stay connected.

AWP and Finding my Footing

AWP in Seattle. Oh boy.

I now understand the glazed expression of fear that crossed my friends’ faces as I excitedly talked about AWP coming to Seattle. Have you ever been…? Of course not.  Travel is expensive, registration is expensive, and vacation was nill.  But this year, my city! How wonderful!

Except. Sort of.

I suspect it’s very different to go to a different city, to stay in a hotel crammed full of writers and to stumble around an unknown city and brush into people equally jet-lagged and out of place.  My city means– I know where my bed is, and it is oh so close. I want to say that AWP was frustrating because of this– my desire to crawl into my own place, but that’s kind of a lie.  Especially because I crashed with a friend two of the nights of the conference.  I think, really, it’s that– I don’t belong at AWP anymore.  A few years ago, I’d have come to the conference ravenous, devouring panels and readings with equal vigor.  I’m hungry these days, but for other things. I found myself dozing off in one panel, my mind working through a boulder problem instead of catching onto metaphor. I found the ache in my body from walking around the city in low heels frustrating.  I thought I better not have a blister, it will make my climbing shoes hurt.

This would make sense if I were some strong crusher– someone who doesn’t get spit off of V2 boulder problems, who isn’t afraid to lead 5.10s.  I’m not an amazing climber. And yet. I’m hungry for it.

There were wonderful moments during the conference, of course.  One of my favorite moments I recorded on video– my friend Nicelle reading on the boat as a troupe of runners came in.  Of course I helped organize an off-site reading that took place on a boat, the perfect venue to serve as both water and poetry support for a run my friend organized.  A reading in a conference room isn’t enough for me? Apparently not.  I’ll try to embed the link of me reading on the boat.  The piece is old, the venue strange, the audience small.  

Glass Slipper Off-site reading from Alexis Vergalla on Vimeo.

I caught up with a friend that I met in Mexico yesterday, and again today, and in talking to him I felt more at home than I did among the MFA crowd.  When did this slip happen? I feel more inspired to organize climbing adventures and to throw into a Women’s Climbing Group than to organize readings. Partly it’s that I’m out of touch– I don’t know the names of writers and I spend so long on my computer that by the time I tumble home I want to be moving.  Still, other people juggle jobs and writing– why can’t I? Because I don’t want to. I want to move, I want to play with lights and photography, I want to wake up early to hit the road and experience something with my body. 

I will never forget Chris Abani asking me to put my hands out, place his palms on mine upturned and ask– what is your first thought. You’re touching me. He said, you think with your body first. It’s why I was unhappy in California, it’s perhaps why I’m happy in this beautiful city of rain and sun.  It’s why I make bad decision around men, it’s why my current photography series circles around my own form.  It’s why I’m going to stop writing this now, change into a climbing top and leggings and meet my friends at the gym. I’m not amazing, at anything, and I have so much further to go before I can attempt any big wall anything, before I crush a bouldering problem that’s mildly difficult, before I can lead routes I want to climb.  But I’m hungry for it in a way that words no longer fill.

 

Poetry in a Fishbowl- Recap

2014-01-31 08.41.27

Last night I had the good fortune to host a reading with Aaron Barrell, Carrie Kahler, Arlene Kim and Jeff Encke on The Glass Slipper. It was a small crowd, but the perfect group of folks for an inaugural reading that had me just a little stressed beforehand. We had about 15 people in attendance, including the poets, and one very friendly puppy named Craig who tried his best to eat Jeff’s manuscript.  The boat rocked gently on the dock, welding flared in the background, Lake Union shimmered and I think everyone had a good time.

2014-01-30 18.20.13It’s been at least half a decade since I last organized a reading and the flurry of making sure I bought crackers and cheese, a couple bottles of wine, distributed the address (an unknown stress factor- planning a reading on a boat means the venue has potential to move!), setting the order, telling enough people but not too many, and remembering to print bios meant…. oh yeah, I’m reading? Oh hell. What am I reading? I told everyone the theme would be water, which the poets kindly wove into their selections. I, however, pulled together a few things looking more at time than anything else.

In looking at the few poems I chose, there was a little bit of a sultry undertone.  I’m not entirely surprised by this—it’s a cold dreary time in Seattle and I confess my mind is on heating up and warmer company. I say passion is fluid and so, water themed? Sure.

Here’s one of the pieces I read, and if I had to draw it to the theme—ISON is basically a ball of ice, right? Or was? Water is everywhere, so I think even if folks hadn’t tried to tie it in, we would have been a liquid bunch.

Ison's Bones

Big thanks to all the poets for joining me, and big thanks to Captain Geoff for donating the space and talking me down from near panic on Wednesday morning.  Last night left me thinking again, how on earth am I so lucky to know the people I know?

2014- Year of Something

Image

If I’ve been walking around in a daze the past week, I’m sorry. I haven’t been great about responding to people’s messages or answering emails.  A lot has been going on. Which is to say– I have a new job! It wasn’t an easy decision… I really love my co-workers, but this is the year of Yes and I’m excited to step out of where I’ve been and try something new.   The work will be much of the same, but with new faces, new projects, a new location and new systems.  I have a chance to learn, a chance to lead, and I’m starting to get over the fear of change and move towards excitement.

I told everyone at my current job today and the general response of kindness and support shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  I’m going to miss this gang.

What a year. January isn’t even over and already I’ve thrown wrenches in just about everything that I can. I suppose January isn’t a great marker– I started to mix things up in October of last year. At the onset of October I was upset and heartbroken, living in a small apartment.  I’ve since: moved into a place that feels like a real home, gone on international travel, climbed harder than ever, started a poetry series, begun training for a triathlon, welcomed a roommate, started to learn to ski, shed clutter, taken on a new job…. Life is careening forward, as it should. There’s so much more to do.

If you’re in Seattle, come join us as we figure out how to turn a glass fishbowl into a poetry venue.  My dear friends Geoff and Ryan have volunteered The Glass Slipper as a poetry venue and we’re testing it out this Thursday, January 30th.  We’re starting at 7:30 and you can come listen to Arlene Kim, Jeff Encke, Carrie Kahler, Aaron Barrel and myself with a beautiful view of Lake Union in the background.  And if that doesn’t work for you, I’ll be up on Capitol Hill Friday night for our company party. I expect it’ll turn to a little bit of crying and a lot of celebration and you might even be able to convince me that I want to debut my karoke skills if you play Robyn. Or mention Robyn. I might start singing. I’m sort of in love with this song. Come find me, come dance with me. (I’ll dance at the poetry reading if you play Robyn as well…)

 

 

Invisibility

There’s self-perception and reality. I assume, pretty much always, that no one remembers who I am. I don’t know why this is, but I just figure I don’t stick out in a crowd.  I know this probably isn’t true (and definitely wasn’t true when my hair was every shade imaginable) but still, I just operate under the assumption that no one remembers me or knows who I am. I think it’s a little bit like seeing someone in a mirror—if the angle is such that YOU can see HIM than the angle is such that HE can see YOU. This is just science.

I go to Stone Gardens almost every Monday. Lately I’ve been going Wednesdays as well, possibly another day over the weekend. I see the same people there, every Monday. I don’t know any of their names, but I know them. The taller guy with a lot of tattoos and small black gauges in his ears that almost always climbs alone. The guy with dark hair and a near scowl and his much smaller female climbing partner who are usually wrapping up right as I get there.  Then of course, there’s the Stone Gardens staff. Some I actually hang out with outside of climbing, but the others I just know from being there. Keith, who sets the routes that KILL me and is usually sitting behind the counter when I get there. Kyle, who I met out at Exit 38 this summer and throws his shirt down off of routes same as I do (and did some bad ass routes last night). Rick, who at this point I actually climb with sometimes and teaches the youth climbing classes on Monday nights. Some of their names I learned from overhearing, some I learned from introductions, some I picked up from volunteering at the climbing competition at Seattle Bouldering Competition. I still assume they don’t remember me.

Yesterday I found out—they know me! They know my name! Objectively—duh. I come in at least once a week, I swipe in and my name shows up on the screen. Not to mention, I have a few visible tattoos which always help with remembering someone (at least for me) and I’m good friends with some of the folks that work at Stone Gardens. Emotionally—I suddenly felt like a Cool Kid.  It’s a funny feeling—to realize that you aren’t as invisible as you think.

It’s getting cold in Seattle—the mountains are already snowcapped. So, in honor, a piece I wrote about skiing without any skiing in it.  This was written out of stories from a friend I love, dearly, who will be returning home soon.

Night Skiing

One moment, the ocean is its ordinary self. Breaking in sets of three, deep grey and predictable.  The next, it pauses, folds a right angle and rushes the cove. Later, the pier is drowned and mermaids learn how to breathe again.  She didn’t say “perhaps” she said “paper” and if you watched her hands, you would have seen each sharp crease before the warmth of the candle carried the moon to its place.

Borrow a cup of sugar and the sky unscrolls.

A color called iceskate, romance with a blade. Morning stacks room on top of room, illumination switches up. Stretches to a combination of take-out and coffee cups, lunch eaten at a desk.

No one ever says “the best time for photographs is the brightest point of the day.”  It’s always the witching hour, the breaking. Light that is just before it gets difficult to read.

You are squinting your eyes at the page. You’ve missed the window.

Later, when you look back, it will be impossible to differentiate day from night.  Except for the color of a shirt, the way one person is looking over her shoulder and another has his hand raised in a wave.  Hello or goodbye—another thing difficult to discern but for memory. Snow throwing light everywhere like it costs nothing at all. 

ISON destroyed|survived

I tried to fly

There is a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street along my walk to the bus that seems to collect dead birds. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen at least three whole birds and countless feathers, as well as one mouse with a spot of blood.  I would assume it’s a predator, except for the tranquil folded pose of most of the bodies.  I suspect the wires.  The patch is right outside a nursing home that I think is faith-based, perhaps Protestant. There’s something about finding dead birds outside a nursing home that’s almost too sad. I found a wing this morning.

I’m working on a new piece that plays with timelines and melds various people into one second person voice. And includes the comet ISON.  I’m not sure that it works, but it’s nice to have a piece fighting me back. In the end I suspect it’s too romantic. I am, after all, trying to stop writing love poems, even if they are addressed to amalgams of the men I (have) love(d). If it ends up any good, I might throw it up here.

I am learning to collapse | you into you into you | distracting grin & unfolding limbs

I am learning to collapse | you into you into you | distracting grin & unfolding limbs