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SubVerse Aphrodesia

A writer's blog by Alicia Grega

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play progress

By some miracle, I opened up a script in progress I haven’t worked on since Dec. 2020 and turned out a couple of pages after my meditation/yoga today. FadeUp says I’m at 26 pages. I was initally inspired by digging into #MeToo gray area. The women who don’t want to talk about it. The ones who stay silent in order to succeed. I began with the urge to write a small cast comedy about an unfunny topic. The working title, “Pussy Grabs Back” was more unique when I first thought about it. Now I feel that joke has been made. By the time I am finished, the play may already be outdated. Or at least it feels that way. I can’t keep up.

But just for today … I was able to slip into the play for long enough to remember why I love writing plays most of all. I lost all sense of the real outside world for those moments when I was in the scene. In my characters’ heads, writing their words, imagining them walking around in space. What are they doing now? What are they really thinking/feeling in this moment? I don’t need to ask these questions. It is automatic. One moment, I was half-listening to the end of a podcast I played on purpose while I was working because I can’t focus when it is too quiet … when I came back out of the play, two guys I couldn’t place were discussing prime minsters of Turkey. What? When did that start? How did I not notice one podcast episode end and the next introduce itself.

There is such satisfaction in that immersion. In the getting lost in the creation … this is the goal. More time for that.

just another silly author photo to break up the words

I love writing poetry because it allows for a sense of completion. My poetry doesn’t try that hard. It’s immediate; honestly just trying to remove the weight from my chest. It gives me something to share with people while my real work, plays they will never read, take years of my life to complete. I like that the poetry can mean something to people who aren’t poets, who aren’t academics or literary scholars. This matters more to me than for the work to be popular.

I’ve considered writing an essay titled “In Praise of the Unpopular.” I may still do it but considering that I’m here groaning about lack of time … I should prioritize.

I don’t mind working. I enjoy all three of my jobs but I always feel like I’m not doing well enough at any of them. And the worst feeling, the one that there’s not enough time in the day to work on my play scripts. I’ve been known to spend hours walking around the house avoiding the work I have to do because I can’t stand the thought of looking at the computer screen for another second.

I spend too much time alone thinking about how I’m working too hard to feel like I’m not making progress.

Unlike my students, I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be considered valuable enough to get one job that won’t kill me to replace the three that certainly will if I keep up this pace for too long. It’s just not smart to be too busy working at low-ish paying jobs to have time to write and market the words that will qualify me for a job that will leave me the time and sanity and head space to write. Follow that?

Unlike my students who often write about the fear of not being successful, I am not afraid. I consider myself successful enough. I raised two amazing independent girls mostly by myself. I went back to school for my MFA. I really do like the work I am doing right now. I have years enough left to write. But I do long for balance. I work hard enough that I deserve to save for retirement like other people. At my age, I shouldn’t be panicking because I don’t have a safety net. I am wise enough not to blame myself for this.

This today from a podcast interview between former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy and social research scientist Dr. Brene Brown that came out last April – I finally got around to listening to it today. It’s still relevant. I’m still teaching and still feel compelled to do what I can for the collective youth and young adults whose lives I touch. -ag 2/21/21

“When I think about my children; when I think about collective children; when I think about what I worry about for the next generation, It’s actually this:
I worry that we’re not setting our children up to believe in themselves, to recognize their true source of power and self-worth and we’re instead telling them that your value is conditional. It’s based on your ability to acquire a bunch of extra things, it’s based on circumstances.
And if you can’t reach those, if you can’t “succeed,” that means you are less valued and that starts a downward spiral when it comes to loneliness. Because the less secure we feel in our worth, the less likely we are to believe that other people want to hang out with us, the more we start to retreat into our shell.

The insidious thing about loneliness that lasts for a long time is it also chips away at our self-esteem and you come to believe that maybe the reason you are lonely is you are not likeable or you are not loveable. …unless we make a conscious decision to shift something in our culture that tells us what self-worth is defined by then we will continue to lead people to a place where they don’t feel they are enough and that unfortunately is a recipe for loneliness.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy on Unlocking Us with Brene Brown, April 2020.

Just a four-letter word

At least this year he doesn’t have to spend hours looking for a Valentine’s Day card that doesn’t say “I love you.”

Where you saw a red flag, I found a cushion.
The words had been said to me before.
And hadn’t I said my share too?
More confession than promise or pledge.
The syllables we remember barely resemble those said.

Just letters representing sounds,
compounded into patterns struggling to
give solid form to the
phantoms and fumes
that cling evasively to the seafloors of our souls –
unspeakable things better left unspoken.

In the end, it was his action I read all wrong.

Mistaking caution for care,
when over and again he said he didn’t want to hurt me.
I misconstrued carnality for affection; pity for concern.
I confused his trepidation with tenderness and his generosity for devotion.
Believed the sharing mattered more than the secrets,
that our friendship trumped the unreasonable rules of romance.

It didn’t matter what he didn’t say
so long as he wanted me part of his every day…

dried-up rose

Miranda’s father waited until the day she was born
to say the words.
Their power was not potent enough to protect me from
the cruel weapons he hurled without hesitation
when I finally swam for shore with our girls on my back,
away from his sinking ship my love could not repair.

Time has a way of tearing our best intentions to bloody shreds.
Today’s right thing is tomorrow’s regret.

Don’t try to make sense
of the dating rites of the mentally ill.
It is a haphazard lattice of quicksand and landmines
laid by the injured in unconscious trauma.

Spare your lecture in the obviousness of clues.
There are warning signs on the way to heaven.

I was more concerned for him than me that
after six years of increasing intimacy –
habituation still lacked inhibition.
Even when the warmth of my love appeared to penetrate his permafrost,
I never saw him slip
from the balance beam he walked between
compartments so precisely erected.

He couldn’t relax even as my nurturing hands
kneaded tension away.
So many evenings I watched him pass directly from tension into sleep,
breathing still unsteady,
words muttered not meant for the living,
not at peace even in rest.

-ag
2/14/21

My relationship status is:

(first draft – may play with this one some more because it made me laugh – ag)

My relationship status is:

Haunted.
Signing up for self-defense classes.
Terrified of being alone for the rest of my life.
Still in shock.
Good enough to be nominated but not good enough to win.

The book was better.
I love myself, dammit.
Empty nest; broken heart.
Abandoned without answers.
I’m rubber; she’s glue.
Socially awkward workaholic.
None of your beeswax.

bitter
angry
PTSD
Pending psychoanalysis I haven’t signed up for.
Enjoying my own company, but it would be nice to have someone else to run things by.

Disappointed, but grateful for the good times.
(To the tune of Merle Haggard) Are the Good Times Really Over? And were the good times really as good as we remember? And are the bad things that happened really that bad when all is said and done?
Still can’t stand the thought of a man telling me what to do.

Demisexual running out of time.
Mourning the loss of my ovaries.
Mulligan or no?
You scrolled through the pictures – it’s pretty much just me and the cat.

Refuse to be framed as anyone’s crazy ex-
My own family functions are more than I can handle. Don’t make me go to yours, too.

Lost in a black hole with no delusion that anyone will ever love me again.
F#%K YOU.

Just kidding; I’m Divorced Single. Confused. Too old for this sh!t. xoxo

P.S. If you’ve been divorced for 18 years are you still “divorced?”

excerpt: The Red Parts (Maggie Nelson)

from Chapter 11
“Simply put … I had become a broken heart. As winter moved into spring, then spring into summer, I found myself losing the man I loved. I was falling or had fallen out of a story. The story of a love I wanted very much. Too much, probably, and the pain of loss had deranged me. Falling out of a story hurts. But it’s nothing compared to the loss of an actual person – the loss of all the bright details that make up that person. All the flashing, radiant fragments that constitute an affair or a love. If there has been a betrayal, you may find yourself holding each of these fragments up to a new light and rotating them there, watching each one grow an unwanted shadow. I found myself there.

-Maggie Nelson

the sudden intimacy of handwriting

It threw me for a moment. Maybe longer. It was hard to tell with all the commotion the IT crew was making in the background of that first on-campus, in-person class, what exactly was to blame for my struggle to focus.

I had arrived 20 minutes early to test the tech and prepare to teach. What appeared to be a flat screen power issue we thought one person could fix turned into a three-man job. A projector and movie screen were brought in and set up as I tried to remember key points from the syllabus. Cords were taped down. One guy talked loudly on the phone as I tried to take attendance. I had forgotten to bring the sign-up sheets I used to use. Zoom has been taking attendance for us in these 10 months since we went home for Spring Break and stayed at home because of the C19 pandemic. I had to learn how to interact with a real flesh and blood class all over again, this time with masks muffling voices and making it harder to breath through anxiety. I pulled the field notebook I always carried out of my purse and looked for the next blank page to write their names down.

It had been a while, also, since I used the notebook. I forgot he had written in it. I was the one who always had pen and paper at hand and we sat next to each other for so many days for so many years… he got used to reaching for it when he wanted to record something clever someone had said. I wasn’t prepared to be exposed to the sudden intimacy of his handwriting in front of my students. I lost my breath in a second’s glimpse of his small, restrained mostly uppercase letters sandwiched between my more expansive, creative scrawl.

I found a blank page soon enough and carried on as well as could be expected given the ruckus of technical difficulties. It wasn’t until later, when in privacy I retrieved those names written down, that I turned back to past pages and spent time with his notes, allowing myself to feel the essence he left behind in the ink. The notebook would have to be replaced with a fresh one, despite so many blank pages left. I couldn’t afford to walk around the with the trigger of his presence, once so close and now lost, in my purse.

What a loss we, all of us in society, suffered when so many anonymous electronic words came to replace handwritten letters vibrant with personality. He didn’t write me letters. It was a rare joy whenever I got to see his reluctant script. I am the one who succumbed to the passion of hard copy handwriting that would, in the end, be my downfall …

-ag

1/27/21

Dear Mr. President and Madam Vice President

On January 10, 2021, I wrote this letter as part of a nationwide letter-writing campaign, organized by Be An #ArtsHero in partnership with The Dramatists Guild of America, imploring the incoming administration to prioritize commitment to the Arts. I recorded this the day after the Inauguration and its delightfully arts-filled ceremonies, eyes still swollen from crying tears of relief, joy, appreciation and hope that better days are on the way.

*Page views of the letter itself can be found a couple of posts ago.

giving blood

After seeing him today in the parking lot, eight months later …
It’s clear I will never be “okay” again.

Why should eyes be allowed to tear without our permission?
What kind of genetic flaw is this?
We don’t go around smacking ourselves in the face all the time; why can’t we decide when to cry?
Would we never choose it?
Why not just stay content all the time? Who would notice?
Only natural to see how long we could get away with it.
That’s the gamble of life most days.
How much longer am I going to get away with this?
On a bad day: How much longer do I have to carry this weight?

Let it go.
Let it go.
I know.

You think I don’t have a shirt that says that?



Update: I’ve been meditating daily; 45 minutes of yoga every other day, cycling on the other days, at least 8 miles or min. 30 minutes (and that’s 30 minutes of actual cycling time- the meter clocks it, and stops counting when I take water breaks).
Consciously dieting during this time of so few pleasures.

Just started a low dose of estrogen last week.
Should have started that years ago, but I was arrogant after the surgery.
Thought I would feel just fine with diet and exercise.
No perspective to understand how much that little hormone did.
How losing my ovaries would turn me into someone I no longer recognized.

And then in losing him, to lose even more of myself,
so much of what I believed now appears untrue…

In any case, there is some shell left standing and I’ve resorted to strategy, schedule and routine to take care of myself.
Whoever she is.

The effort is exhausting – on bad days I’m not sure how much longer I want to bother.
On those days, I am tired of wanting to feel better and failing.

Today, the phlebotomist told me –

after I felt his eyes land on me and I ran into the Red Cross
panic; terror; PTSD; his silence has made him a monster
Still bolts of energy connecting us from a distance.
The connection was never was a choice. It chose us.
He recognized me.
And then a wave of sorrow crashed down.

He’s refused to say anything to me for eight months.
He’s not going to start talking now. Here, caught by surprise, in public.
After I coincidentally turned into the parking lot behind him.
(Only later did it occurred to me he might have thought I was following him.
Did he guess I was there to give blood next to his gym?
The appointment was set two months ago – they don’t take walk-ins anymore.)

Was I just supposed to stand there and let him look at me.
Was that pity in his eyes?
Does he feel sorry for me too, or just for himself?

This is what pain feels like.
And this is what the dharma says to do.
Just sit with it.
Don’t judge it.
Just acknowledge that it is.

It’s so much more than loss.

Betrayal.
Abandonment.
His care turned into contempt.
My rock is gone.
I’ve got no one to lean on.

So after the phlebotomist says to me,
“Your donation today is going to save 26 babies who need a blood transfusion…”
Whoa. What?
There are a bunch of small bags hooked up to the apparatus I’ve never noticed.
They’ve never said this to me before and I donate every two months.
Literally saving babies is a thing?
They usually send an email that says my blood went to someone in a hospital in New York State
– Buffalo, Rochester …
the details are nobody’s business.
Today, it feels like the Red Cross has issued a special assignment for my O neg universal donor blood.

Me, a 48-year-old, divorced, empty-nested adjunct college professor and freelance teaching artist (writing/theatre) who also works part-time doing marketing and communications for a nonprofit that helps women and children experiencing homelessness,
(Can I hear a prayer for a shorter job title in my future? Amen! Or maybe we could just not, as a society, label each other according to our occupations. But if I said I was a playwright, would you find that pretentious?)
from Scranton, PA,
basically keeping her head down during the pandemic while justifiably freaked out that she’s working as hard as she can and still NEEDED that COVID stimulus money from the government to survive.
She keeps asking, how are we going to fix this, but there are no answers.

Me. I’m nobody.
Yet, God has made it possible for me to save 26 babies with one blood donation. It’s one hour of my Sunday.
Who am I to decide what my rewards will be in this life and when I will be allowed to enjoy them?
It is my duty to respect this life I was given.
Nurture its body, mind, heart and soul.

I have said “yes” to so many things, some choices wiser than others.
I have tasted and touched and listened, saw and breathed so much.
So many gifts of life.

I owe it to people I will never meet
to take care of what I’ve been given
and giveback as much as I can.

It just doesn’t matter if I feel bad once in a while.
Let it rain until it’s done raining.
Nature insists on change.

Later, sitting at the kitchen table in silence,
letting these words take me where they will,
I hear a freight train in the closenough distance:
church bells giving it the full Sunday treatment.

Gratitude for this quiet
to hear life beyond myself and the cat.
There are almost always background sounds distracting –
radio, podcasts, audiobooks, TV, instrumentals –
less music these past months.
Too many songs crafted to make us feel;
too hard to stop crying once the tears start.

Like that day “Big Yellow Taxi” came on at Redner’s.
Excruciating.
It’s not socially acceptable to break down crying at the grocery store,
so you do whatever you can not to hear Joni Mitchell.
Or think about the lyrics and how he never told you how
he came to be such a big fan.
There’s got to be a story there
and now you’ll never know.

It is the structure to blame when the end
fails to satisfy.
Too abrupt.
Yet, in life things are just like this,
too suddenly over.

– ag, Jan. 17, 2001

We Should All Be Arts Heroes

As part of a Dramatists Guild campaign, I composed a letter to our incoming President and Vice President about the particular challenges facing theatre artists and the arts in general and how we must, as a nation, honor the socio-economic value professional artists and the arts sector bring to the United States of America.

AIE #teachingtips

No one publishes their first draft. If you aren’t making “mistakes,” you aren’t writing enough.

-ag

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