Sensational Spoken Word Poetry Favorites Worth Your Time

A few years ago, while attempting to pare down the rather sizeable list of to-watch TEDtalks I’d accumulated, a talk that opened with a spoken word poem caught my attention, and my heartstrings. It was Sarah Kay’s “If I should have a daughter…” Even once the poem had ended, Sarah was delightful to listen to as she went on to discuss what spoken word poetry is to her.

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I was soon curious to hear more of, not only Sarah’s poems, but others as well. This was relatively new territory for me, having never heard or experienced much spoken work poetry before, but I was eager, and handsomely rewarded.

I spent months of solid listening to spoken word poetry from all kinds of poets on a multitude of topics, hungry for more, searching for the ones that gave me chills or made me want to cry by the end, sometimes poems that had me laughing, or conveyed a shared experiences; poems that struck through my heart and pierced into my soul and stayed there; poems I couldn’t get out of my head, and that still remain.

I have resisted the urge to repeatedly share each one as I find, watch and rewatch them, but they deserve to be shared, listened to, and remembered. So, I’ve collected a handful of my extreme favorites to share. Whether you listen to them all at one time, or return to listen now and then, I cannot recommend these poems enough and hope that you take the times to listen to a few.

Normally I would be prone to give a comment about each, but I would rather let the poets speak for themselves, so I’ve added a couple quotes instead; the best way to experience them is to actually do so by listening.

(There are some sensitive topics covered, please take care of yourself if any of them becomes too much or triggering)

Mental Illness/Mental Health

Catalina Ferro– Anxiety Group

“..these people who fight everyday like fucking gladiators who fight demons worse than you and I can dream of, just because they want so badly to live, to hold on, to love, because you can’t be this afraid of losing everything if you don’t love everything first….”

Neil Hilborn– Joey

“When I wanted to open myself up and see if there were really bees rattling around in there, my parents got my a therapist. I can pinpoint the session that brought be back to the world, that session cost $75…it took weeks of $75 to get to the one that saved my life. We both had parents that believed us when we said we weren’t okay but mine could afford to do something about it…”

Javon Johnson & Terisa Siagatonu– PTSD

“When is his teacher going to stop sending him to the principal and start sending him to the counselor? Why do we fire the counselor? What happened to the art classes, to PE, and health center, because trauma is an STD, a socially transmitted disease; meaning my trauma is your trauma, your/his/her trauma is mine, and that what it means to be in a community. There only difference there is between a solider with PTSD and one of my students with it is a soldier gets to leave the battlefield while my kids go home to it…”

Education

Denice Frohman– Weapons

“At entrance of a white Philadelphia high school, officer with gun perched on each hip asks me if I a weapon. I hold my book, he doesn’t find that funny….I’m escorted to an audtorium with 130 black and latino students. We talk about hip hop, they think poetry is what old white people do…I ask them if they have dreams…another student in the 8th row tries to decide if this is a trick question. There’s no right answer, I say, but they’re far too comfortable with the right to remain silent…the principal is now staring at me in anticipation of what I have to say next. He’s afraid that they will leave with weapons. I am afraid they will not know the ones that already exist”.

Taylor Mali -What Teachers Make

“…I can make a C+ feel like a congressional medal of honor. I can make an A- feel like a slap in the face; how dare you waste my time with anything less than than your best? …You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder, I make then question, I make them criticize, I make them apologize and mean it…”

Dylan Garity– Rigged Game

“(my sister) teaches ESL in an elementary school in Boston and every week she tells me stories about her students…learning to read in a new language when you can’t even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim  by drowning them. We are telling these children, who have spent their whole lives in the deep end, that they’ll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther…the winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules”

Men’s & Women’s Issues

Lily Myers– Shrinking Women

“I learned to absorb, I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself…Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled; deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy…”

Katie Makkai– Pretty

“The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry, ‘Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?’ …I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me. This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.”

Guante– Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’

“…contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of chemical depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.”

Sierra Demulder– Paper Dolls

“Imagine each victim is an acrobat. Her sanity, a balancing act. Our response is the unfailing safety net. We never expect to see her across the wire….Nothing was stolen from you. Your body is not a hand-me-down. There is nothing that sits inside you holding your worth, no locket that can be seen or touched, fucked from your stomach to be left on concrete. I know it’s hard to feel perfect when you can’t tell an Adam’s apple from a fist. Some ashtray of a man picked you to play his Eden but I will not watch you collapse.”

Dylan Garity– Friend Zone

“The problem is, when I started thinking of myself as a savior, I ended up thinking of myself as a savior with a salary. You put in your hours as a nice guy and sex is just a living wage but sex is not a transaction.Sex is not a handshake to seal some deal. That girl did not owe me anything.”

Anna Binkovitz– Asking For

“But in my experience, one of the chief perks of having sex with an adult is that if they want something, they can ask for it. For instance, if I’m at dinner with my mom and I want her to pass the salt, I don’t put on my special salt costume. I ask for the salt! With my word place!”

LGBTQ+

Denice Frohman– Dear Straight People

“..Dear Straight People, You’re the reason we stay in the closet. You’re the reason we even have a closet. I don’t like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house.Dear Straight People, Sexuality and gender? Two different things combined in many different ways. If you mismatch your socks, you understand…”

Ethan Smith- A Letter to the Girl I Use to Be

“I tried to cross you out like a line in my memoir. I wished I could erase completely
And maybe I’m misunderstanding the definition of death. But even though parts of you still exist, you are not here…”

Joy Young– The Queer Hokey-Pokey

“She beamed about it—her hair her own queer bat-signal in the sky announcing her lesbian arrival,though she’s been here as long as I remember. She finally felt super: stripped of her invisibility, empowered, her remaining hair wrapped around her neck like a lasso of truth.  She chokes out another gasp of ‘I’m gay’ when men come onto her, and they’ll believe her now.”

Cassidy Foust- Ghostbusters (is so gay…)

“The new ghostbusters move is so gay that no one is actually allowed to talk about it…a generation of queer girls leaves the theater masters of hide-and-seek…we know we can only exist on screen as Schrodinger’s Queer…”

About using your voice and standing up

Sam Cook– Flatland

Each of us only gets so many opportunities to show another person that humanity is more than just the people behind you who will trample you when you fall.

Connecting

Marshall Davis Jones– Touchscreen

“….doesn’t it feel good to touch? my world is so digital that I have forgotten what that feels like. It used to be hard to connect when friends formed cliques but it’s even more difficult to connect now that clicks form friends…iPod iMac iPhone iChat I can do all of these things without making eye contact…”

These poems and many more have inspired me with my own poetry, even to the point of being curious to try spoken word myself. Perhaps some day.

What did you think of these? Do you have any favorites of your own? Have you ever tried or thought about attempting to do some spoken word yourself? Please comment, I’d love to know!

 

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 31

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 30

A chill had crept into the room that had little to do with the temperature. The light shivered again.

“Am I to understand that you’re opposed to coming up with a plan?” Osric crossed his arms over his broad chest. He eyed Leonard with a pompous air that Leonard was certain was more bravado than anything else.

“Plans are good to have, but not when you’re too busy doing the planning that the acting on it part gets left out,” Leonard retorted, glaring back at Osric.

It took Leonard more than a moment to place where the anger pounding in his chest had come from; not only was there a possibility that his father was somehow, inexplicably, alive, but few if any efforts had been made to rescue him, or the others being held against their will. The blood in Leonard’s veins boiled like a molten river.

“Neither of you understand!” Osric countered as he launched himself to his feet and renewed his pacing. Each footfall felt like a jab in Leonard’s side, nudging him onward.

Leonard opened his mouth to reply, but a small hand gripped his shoulder, effectively freezing his tongue. Wilhelmina reassuringly squeezed his shoulder again before rising to her feet as well. The argument that had roused him now made much more sense as it was take up anew.

“You see! I’m not the only one that finds it hard to believe that nothing has been done yet. We can’t wait forever. There must be something, Osric,” Wilhelmina nearly pleaded, her voice a painful swirl of emotions, but with iron at its center.

Osric continued to pace and rubbed his forehead as if he hadn’t heard her, deftly side-stepping Wilhelmina each time he found her in his path. At last, he turned with a dramatic sweep to face them. Osric gave them a measured look before nodding and striding towards the door.

“Come with me,” he said, reaching one of his large hands out to Leonard, who was still on the floor with the wall at his back. Leonard hesitated for the space of a breath before grasping the taller man’s wrist and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet effortlessly.

“Where are we headed?” Leonard asked as Osric pulled open the heavy chamber door and entered the dark corridor, pausing after a stride to wait for his companions. Leonard’s legs felt a little shaky but seemed likely to support him. He leaned against the wall to steady himself as he made to gather up his satchel and arms.

“You can leave those here for now. We will either return here or have your things brought to you when needed,” Osric called from the hall. Leonard caught Wilhelmina’s eye, his hand hovering over the satchel’s strap.

Wilhelmina considered before setting aside her bow and her sword belt, but Leonard noticed that she did not relieve herself of all the weapons she had brought, such as the ones tucked into her boots. She also kept her own pack safely slung over her back. Leonard followed her lead; he grabbed up his own bag and left all else behind, then tailed Wilhelmina in to the hall.

Osric said nothing of their still laden shoulders, but turned and continued down a side hallway that Leonard had not realized was there in the shadowy corridor.

“Where are we going?” Leonard whispered as he blindly stumbled after Osric’s footsteps. Out of the darkness, a soft hand slipped into his and pulled him along.

“To enlighten you,” Osric called darkly from up ahead, his voice echoing off the empty stone hall.

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photo by Ioan Sameli

Click here for Part 32!

My Visit to the Tremendous Angel Oak Tree

In an attempt to regroup and heal a fraction from the heinous and disappointing ramifications of the past year and a half or so, a good friend and I decided to attempt to get away for a few days…I haven’t really been able to relax much because…well, the obvious reasons concerning the world currently, but I have managed to find a few moments of enjoyment.

On Sunday, I finally got to visit a tree that I’ve been in love with for years and wanted to visit: the Angel Oak Tree in John’s Island, SC, and it was beautiful beyond words to see in person. Pictures don’t do her justice, but here are some taken on my visit. (photos not taken by me are noted)

Imagine all this beauty has seen in its hundreds of years of life…

 

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photo by Brandon Kahn
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photo by Brandon Kahn

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A final hug before parting…until next time….

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photo taken by Brandon

I will be back home tomorrow from my attempt at a vacation from the real world. I’m still trying to recharge because no matter what, there’s a lot to be done when I get back home, and not all of it is writing related.

I want to live in a world where we can have trees that are hundreds of years old, and people to appreciate them. So take a moment, take a breath, enjoy, and get to work. I will be.

Have you ever been to the Angel Oak Tree, or visited another place you’ve longed to see? Please share, I’d love to know!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 30

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 29

“You can’t just go tearing off into the city’s heart! You know nothing about this place, and I won’t let you get yourself killed, or worse, while you get yourself lost. Especially not without better intelligence than we have,” a deep voice stressed to whisper commandingly, only partially succeeding at both.

I will go where I see fit, Osric. Someone needs to straighten this out and I won’t be left behind waiting, left in the dark!” a woman whispered back, far more effective at replying in both a whisper and commanding tone.

The voices continued to murmur to each other, but it didn’t make much sense to Leonard, who heard them as if they were far away. Any of the words he did managed to catch seemed to float around in his mind, but never anchored into fully coherent messages.

Leonard was sure the voices sounded familiar, and in a far off way, he knew that what they were talking about mattered. He also became aware of his cheek against cold stone as he lay prostrate. An unbidden groan escaped his lips, head throbbing murderously at his first attempt to shift his position from the unforgiving ground.

The whispering stopped, replaced with the shuffling of feet. Leonard moaned again as he tried to move his arm to life himself from the ground. Before he’d managed to realize he felt nauseated and maybe should lay back down, there were hands on either side of him, gently assisting him to shift into a sitting position; his head gave another unceremonious throb that sent him falling sideway while cradling his head. The hands held him in place with his back against the wall.

Eventually, Leonard became aware that the murmuring had started up again, but there were longer pauses between each muddled message. He leaned his back against the wall and tried to concentrate on the words floating around his head.

“Leonard? Leonard, how are you feeling?” it was a woman’s voice, but it sounded watery and muffled. Leonard’s head continued to pulsate. He wasn’t sure he wanted to open his eyes, he felt dizzy just being propped against the wall.

“Imkaywhappen?” the string of smashed together and half completed words fell out of Leonard’s mouth in a rush of wheezy air.

“I didn’t quite catch all of that, but I do not think ‘okay’ is any way to describe the situation at hand,” the woman’s voice said near Leonard’s ear. Though everything still felt fuzzy and he had not yet opened his eyes, Leonard was able to recognize Wilhelmina’s voice as hers at last. Small comforts, he told himself through the pulsating of his head.

“You’ve been out for a while, so don’t move too fast,” Osric’s deeper voice sounded in Leonard’s other ear. Leonard felt the weight of the larger man’s hand rest on his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. To Leonard’s surprise, it also made him feel a little better.

With great effort and much trepidation, Leonard slowly opened his eyes, though quickly shaded them from the only lamplight with his hand, grateful for the dimly lit room. “What happened?” he asked after a moment, resisting the urge to shake his head to clear it for fear of angering his gently pulsing head.

“Well, we were discussing the direness of our circumstances when…well, you hit the floor- I tried to catch you, mate, sorry about that. But you just sort of…shut off, blacked out. We were actually going to ask you what happened,” Osric answered.  Though he attempted to sound lighthearted, Leonard could see the uncertainty Osric felt; his drown together eyebrows and worried gaze were telling enough.

“How long have I been out?” Leonard asked, trying not to cringe from the answer. Collapsing for any amount of time after the mention of things getting more dangerous didn’t sound like the best way to contribute to a mission or an adventure to Leonard.

“It’s hard to say for sure in here, but an hour or two, I’d wager,” Osric replied as if reporting that the sun was shining that day, and it was of no consequence. Leonard could tell the minimization of time was for his benefit.

“It was enough time for Mi-Wilhelmina and I to get each other caught up on a few things, get a little reacquainted,” Osric added with a soft smile in his sister’s direction. Wilhelmina did not return the smile, but her eyes were brighter.

“Oh?” Leonard asked, slowly looking from Osric to Wilhelmina.

Wilhelmina nodded and said, “We weren’t able to revive you, and so thought it best to use the time we had to go over a few important things. Osric is now more knowledgeable about what’s be going on in Palloria, and I was learning about the situation here in Krosis. We were just discussing what actions we might need to take-“here Osric cut across Wilhelmina.

“Actually, we were having a disagreement about that,” he said with a hard look at Wilhelmina, who seemed unabashed, but remained silent, allowing Osric his say.

“What is it?” Leonard inquired, still shielding his eyes, but no longer needing to squint at his companions. Now that he was more conscious, he was becoming aware of the rising tension between Wilhelmina and Osric and couldn’t help but think that he woke up just in time.

“Osric was explaining to me that there have been some disturbing reports coming in concerning the nature of the portal and shards, mainly what powers then and allows them to work as they do. There is a high likelihood that those that have been abducted have been put to use, in one way or another, to keep them working.” Wilhelmina’s voice drained of color as she shared this information with Leonard, who felt his heart grow painfully cold.

“But…but they’re alright aren’t they? Maybe hurt but, we just need to go and find them, right? Destroy whatever machines are being used, break everyone out and then return everyone home?” Leonard searched both faces for any sign of hope, but he recalled the argument that he’d awoken to, and his heat sank even further.

“It’s not that easy. Everyone has been getting false information from Etta, Wilhelmina and the Palloria side, as well as me and the base here. Only recently have some of the more disconcerting reports made their way through, so it’s been slow work trying to piece the truth out, as well as any possibly compromised people. But we are going to form a plan,” Osric insisted when Leonard’s face hardened.

“You’re telling me that there’s a good chance that the people that have been abducted across various worlds, including Palloria, are being used to somehow power the portal shards, something that really doesn’t sound good for anyone’s health, and we’re going to ‘come up with a plan’?” Leonard was unable to dampen his incredulous tone.

The lamplight flickered.

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photo by Stefan Klocek

Click here for Part 31!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 29

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 28

Leonard gaped at Osric, his mouth hanging out, heading shaking at the impossibility. Leonard couldn’t understand why Osric would say it if it wasn’t true, but it just wasn’t possible. He searched for Wilhelmina’s face in scope of his blurry vision, finding a paler version than usual, her mouth also agape. She too was shaking her head at the impossibility.

“I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but that’s what we need to find out,” Osric said, turning to Wilhelmina, imploring her with his eyes. “We have a lot of talking to do,” he added with a hard look and disquieting undertone.

When she’d finally unfrozen, Wilhelmina put a hand to her brow and began shaking her head emphatically. Leonard thought he heard her muttering the word “no” but he couldn’t be sure. He felt all the more lost and confused, like the floor had complete disappeared from under him, leaving him scrabbling in free fall hoping for anything to cling to on the way down.

Leonard jumped when the weight of a hand rested on his shoulder. He almost knocked into Wilhelmina, the owner of the hand, with his jarring movement, but steadied after recognizing her touch. Though she looked like she’d aged, Leonard still saw the fierce strength in her gaze, which soothed his anxious thoughts.

He took a slow, deep breath, eyes still locked on Wilhelmina, who nodded at him as he exhaled. The feeling started coming back to his legs, and though his arms still pricked and tingled, they didn’t feel quite so heavy anymore.

“What did he say?” Leonard heard himself ask a little hoarsely, his throat dry. He cleared his throat and swallowed a few times before trying again, sounding much more like his usual self, if a little shaky, “What did my father say to you the last time you saw him?”

Leonard shifted his body and attention to Osric, searching his face for any and every answer that may make itself known. Osric stood in the far corner, where his pacing had taken him, with his hands clasped behind his back.

“He didn’t speak much. That’s part of the strangeness. He hasn’t been fulfilling his duties in the usual fashion for some time now, but Etta’s been explaining it away with one thing and another. Though at this point, I don’t know how much to believe…” Osric’s voice tapered off and his eyes went out of focus. Leonard was sure he was recalling and reexamining everything his older sister may have said to him for a long time.

“When is the last time you saw Gerard in Palloria?” Osric asked Wilhelmina with a shake of his mane, his eyes coming back into focus.

“The last time Gerard was in Palloria, to my knowledge, was the last time Etta was in Palloria, again to my knowledge. And that, was around ten years ago Palloria time. I was still recovering from being sick…or poisoned, as the case stands,” Wilhelmina said, finishing with an indignant huff as she crossed her arms.

Osric’s eyes widened before his furrowed brow overtook them. He slowly shook his head, much in the same way Leonard had moments previously, though Leonard couldn’t imagine what would shock anyone as much as the possibility of their dead father being alive.

“How can that be?” Osric asked the room so softly that Leonard almost missed it.

“How many years has it been, Krosis time, since you came to Palloria with medicine for me?” Wilhelmina inquired, cutting into whatever swarm of thoughts Osric was losing himself in. The shrewd countenance had returned to her features; it was comforting to Leonard to see.

“Nearly five,” Osric replied darkly. The siblings exchanged a meaningful look that was lost on Leonard. He looked between the two of them, hoping one of them would explain the increased anxiety written on their faces.

Leonard tried to remember how to breathe, to send the proper signals from his brain to his heart and lungs to keep him pulling oxygen into his body, and expelling carbon dioxide. At every turn, there was another endless series of questions in need of answering before they could move forward. Each moment held within it the capacity to shatter previous notions of truth and understanding; Leonard wasn’t sure he wanted to be on an adventure anymore.

Pushing aside thoughts of his familiar mail route worlds away, Leonard managed to ask, “What fresh hell does that mean for us?”

Wilhelmina and Osric held each other’s gaze for an infinite moment. Leonard’s heart kept the seconds between his question and their reply.  Finally, Osric looked at him.

“It means, there’s a very good chance that someone is tampering with the power of the portal, or the shards…we need more information, more certainty and facts, but…if the differences in time between our worlds has been intentional, we could be in even more dire circumstances than originally thought…” Osric searched Leonard’s face as his voice died away.

Within the space of his next heartbeat, Leonard felt his legs give way beneath him. The stone floor rose absurdly fast to meet him.

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photo by Alexander Wilds

Click here for Part 30!

Why I Will Never Have a Favorite Book

 

You mention your love of books, or you’re among book lovers, mention that you’re an author, or having an interview, you’re getting to know someone….you know the questions is coming…..what is your favorite book?

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I’ve never been able to answer this question, and I never will. Usually I don’t like using words like “never” but in this case, it’s completely appropriate.

I understand how people can have favorites, but only because I cannot properly place or understand the value someone else has for one particular story; I can only account for the value and significance certain books have to me.

So, why am I incapable of choosing one or even a select few (less than 10) favorite books? It boils down to two basic issues:

First of all…

What defines a favorite book?

A favorite is defined as what is preferred before all others of the same kind.

But seriously, what criteria needs to be met for a book to be considered a favorite? What are the parameters? I’m sure the answers are as varied as the books being read and named, but problem remains: how do you define a favorite book?

Is it the number of times you reread it? Is whether or not you would reread it? Is it a matter of how deeply a book touched you? If a new idea was introduced to you?

My reasons for choosing the books I consider as my favorites (of which there are many) can vary; sometimes the reasons are ineffable and exist in the feeling within the book itself, the magic woven into the ink of the words on the page.

For every possible definition, I could probably conjure up another and another title that would fit, forever making a singular favorite impossible.

Second of all…

Too many possibilities

Even if you were able to construct and agree on a definition, there are far too many possibilities!
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Every day, there are new books being written, published, and found, and if even fractions of those are read, at least a fraction of those are likely to become special or a favorite. The sheer number of stories in existence is enough to illustrate the difficulties, even when you do the math to approximate how many of them you may read in your own lifetime.

Unless you’re reading mostly books that you don’t like, or aren’t interested in, or that are all somehow all just atrocious, you should be scooping up a handful of titles that stick with you.

So again, how, with all of the many wondrous possibilities at hand, is it possible to choose one, or even a precious few, favorites?

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Even if you try and narrow the parameters to make the choice “easier,” there’s still the question of how you decide what kind of favorite? Favorite book(s) of all time (hard to say and subject to change)?

Favorite book in a particular genre? By a certain author? Recent favorite (as in most easily comes to mind, or in the last few months)?

So you see, choosing a favorite anything can be difficult, but choosing a favorite book…

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It’s just not going to happen any time soon…

I could give you a list of my favorites, possibly even rank them from extreme to basic favorites, but that’s probably the best I can do. Personally, I’m okay with that.

What about you? Are you able to choose a favorite book? Please share it in the comments!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 28

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 27

“I don’t know if I’d call it a burning question, but I’d like to know how you came to be here, Leonard Letterman.” Osric looked right at Leonard as he said his name. The shaggy-haired lion had as much curiosity in his eyes as he did amusement on his lips, though there was a foreboding quality to the long stare Leonard kept locked with him.

Wilhelmina remained silent, her eyes roving from one man to the other as they spoke, narrowing almost imperceptibly in Leonard’s direction.

“Well, the short of it is, I found a letter with ‘Letterman’ written on it while on my route. I found my way to some big house and then went through a pond on the grounds and found myself in a study of Wilhelmina’s,” Leonard answered, unable to keep the corners of lips from lifting up, or his voice from becoming lighter.

“How long have you been the Letterman?” Osric asked before Leonard could decide whether or not to continue.

“Oh, um-a day? Two days?” Leonard answered skeptically, looking to Wilhelmina for some sign of confirmation, but she continued holding herself nearly as still as a statue, and certainly as silent as one. “It’s hard to say, but my yesterday was essentially becoming the Letterman…and finding out what that means,” he added, returning his focus to Osric,

The man seemed to be suppressing his surprise, but he could not keep his eyebrows from disappearing under his shaggy locks.

“How is that possible?” Osric asked after a prolonged pause in their conversation. His eyebrows had returned from their hiding place to form a darkly furrowed brow line.

“Well, my father died before he, apparently, had a chance to tell me about…all of this,” Leonard answered, gesturing to the room around them and the situation they found themselves in.

Osric’s demeanor looked darker, his mouth slightly open as he shook his head without seeming to realize he was doing it. “Who is your father?” he asked, eyes now in danger of disappearing beneath his eyebrows.

“Gerard,” came Wilhelmina’s unexpected answer from her place against the wall. She had not moved, but her eyes were now focused on Osric, waiting for his reaction. “His father was Gerard Letterman.”

Osric resumed his pacing again as he absorbed this information, which obviously meant something to him. Leonard’s heart pounded forcefully in his chest as he watched Osric swiftly turn on his heel at each corner of the small room and waited for him to speak. In the back of his mind, a small voice asked Leonard if he really wanted to know the answer to Osric’s palpable agitation.

At last, Osric turned around with a different pained expression on his face than before; there was more frustration and anger muddled in with confusion.

First, he looked to Wilhelmina with a sardonic smile, shaking his head before saying, “I suppose there won’t be a need for continued secrecy between us, little sister. I will share all I know without hesitation or reservation because it will be the only way for us to work together and fix things.” Leonard heard the carefully controlled ferocity within each calmly spoken word.

Wilhelmina was too surprised to look pleased, her lips slightly parted, eyes wide. Her arms loosened from their frozen placement and she shifted away from the wall, still at a loss for words. Suspicion began to cloud her features, but Osric turned to Leonard and spoke first.

“Leonard, I-I don’t-“ Osric stopped abruptly and rubbed his temples a moment before putting his hands on his hips as he faced Leonard and tried a different opening. “How long ago did your father disa-die? How long ago did you say he died?”

Leonard felt like someone was sitting on his chest and it was becoming uncomfortable to breathe. Osric’s question, and correcting himself, didn’t make sense. He felt chilled, but he was starting to sweat, perspiration trickling down the side of his head, palms slickening by the second.

Leonard licked his lips before answering, the salty taste of sweat making his stomach churn. “Twelve years.” It came out raspy and hoarse.

Osric nodded as if this confirmed something to him, but remained silent, taking up his pacing path yet again. Leonard’s arms felt heavy as he moved the few inches that put him in Osric’s path, halting the taller man from his silent brooding.

“Tell me.” It was a demand as much as it was a request, Leonard’s voice small but strong.

Osric took a step back from Leonard, clearing his throat and casting a look in Wilhelmina’s direction before answer, “I saw Gerard Letterman myself, not a week and a half ago, Krosis time. Even with the distortions and time issues we’ve had between here and Palloria, it’s impossible for Gerard to be dead.”

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photo by Thomas Hawk

Click here for Part 29!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 27

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 26

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Photo by Kahlid Almasoud

Osric looked like he would object, but seemed to think better of it and snapped his mouth closed before nodding and exiting the room with a passing, “just poke your head out, then.” The chamber door closed with a resounding and solid thud, the iron handle clanking with its release.

Leonard barely had time to react to the man’s sudden departure before Wilhelmina said, “my one condition is that you must swear that you will not tell Osric, or anyone about the shard we found.” Her voice was barely above a whisper, and it was hard, sharp.

She leaned close to him, further than he thought was necessary given their proximity, the volume of her voice, and the thick door behind them. Leonard opened his mouth to ask a question but Wilhelmina held up her hand to silence him, casting a suspicious glance at the door before returning her flaming blue gaze back to him.

“Leonard, you must promise me this,” she reiterated even more vehemently. Leonard’s brow crinkled as he leaned away from Wilhelmina’s conspiratorially proximity.

“But why? I mean, we don’t have to just throw it out there, but if it comes up, why hide it?” Leonard managed to ask in a rushed whisper, ignoring Wilhelmina’s attempt to halt his query. He decided that he didn’t necessarily have a problem with keeping that knowledge between the two of them, but he wanted to understand the reason before entering into any form of possible skullduggery.

“Tell me why it’s worth it to start off an attempt to establish trust with a possible ally, with a secret? A condition of any kind? Don’t you think it negates the equally trusting each other part, just a bit?” Leonard’s insides squirmed as he spoke, but his conscience needed a reason and demanded to be heard, even at a whisper.

The look on Wilhelmina’s face strongly put Leonard in mind of his mother when she would rather reply with ‘because I told you so’ but knew that it would only gain her more instead of less pestering. Finally, whatever inner conflict she seemed to be having, resolved.

Wilhelmina leaned in towards Leonard again, pinning him to the spot with her now trademark stare as she hissed, “I need you to understand and trust me when I say that, if we reveal to the wrong people that we have the last portal shard, and are now in Krosis, we could be putting any number of people in unspeakable danger, not to mention ourselves. We’ll be useless to everyone if we’re killed or captured. We cannot let this shard fall into the wrong hands.”

Wilhelmina’s hand fluttered over the middle of her chest where Leonard was certain the amulet rested while hanging around her slender neck. He considered her words silently, his eyes out of focus and far away even as he continued to stare at Wilhelmina’s hand.

Eventually, Leonard nodded his acquiescence without another word. Wilhelmina glowed at him momentarily before turning to allow Osric back into the room, and the conversation. Leonard tried to relax his jaw when the ache in it signaled that he had been clenching it unawares.

“So, are we now to begin this trust building exercise of inquiry exchange?” Osric asked with a hint of sarcasm as he reentered the chamber, rubbing his hands together as he looked from Leonard to Wilhelmina.

Leonard nodded, smiling reassuringly even though he suddenly felt like a bug under a magnifying glass on a sunny day. He hadn’t meant to make himself an integral part of whatever mission they were trying to accomplish, but he seemed to have stumbled into it anyway. With neither sibling willing to be the first to offer information worthy of an ally to the other, someone needed to be the mediator; he could already feel Wilhelmina waiting to weigh every word he chose to give to Osric against every useful; syllable gained in return.

“How should we start, then?” Wilhelmina asked agreeably, though her smile had a more frozen quality to it than Leonard remembered there being before.

The three of them exchanged silent, thoughtful glances before Leonard spoke up.

“Osric, what’s a burning question you have? If I can, I will answer it. We’ll go back and forth from there, switching off who asks a question and who answers,” he proffered, feeling more stupid by the moment, but trying to retain the veneer of confidence; he was a mail man, not a mediator, and definitely not an actor…

There was a tense moment where it looked like Wilhelmina might object, but she held her tongue and inclined her head to her brother. Osric nodded his approval and resumed his pacing after checking that the door had been properly closed again, tapping one large, slender finger against the tip of his chin with every other step.

Wilhelmina briefly glanced at Leonard before folding her arms in front of her chest and leaning against the nearest wall to await Osric’s first question.


Click here for Part 28!

Looking to the New Year

With a weary sigh I say that 2016 is nearly at an end, and I cannot stand to speculate what may happen in the coming year, on so many levels; if you follow me on social media at all, it probably has not escaped your notice that I’ve been having some troubles with my usual nemeses: chronic illness, PTSD, anxiety, and depression, all of which are connected and fuel off each other.

At this time of year, goal setting for the next journey around the sun is expected. New Year’s Resolutions abound, and are so often broken before the new January is finished. As evidenced by my post around this time last year, I do it too….but then again, I goal set and add expectations to myself continuously throughout the year, on large and small scales, often reevaluating and adjusting as I go.

This year…I don’t think I’m going to do anymore goal setting than I have, and naturally do, even compulsively. Honestly, how many times can I rewrite, resort, and rework my goals without actually moving forward enough to require it?

After a lot of thought and consideration, not to mention the all too raw and recent passing of Carrie Fisher, and an unexpected dive into #sexabusechat on Twitter regarding self-compassion and self-care, I’m going to try and take a different tact…

But before I go into what I’m going to do, I feel the need to highlight what I currently do. carrie-fisher-im-mentally-ill-quoteIn the light of such a strong and courageous advocate concerning mental health, a woman who pulled no punches and spoke her mind, and the truth, no longer able to continue the fight against stigma, it’s the added motivation to work on how I intend to utilize my own voice in more ways for the purpose.

Due to a combination of my natural personality and tendencies with that of what I’ve experienced regarding trauma …I’m incredibly cruel to myself. I wouldn’t dream of talking to anyone or speaking of anyone the way that I speak to and often about myself. As discussed last night in the chat, survivors of abuse have to learn a new vocabulary because the one they are taught is one of self-punishment and self-loathing. I’m still learning the vocabulary of self-compassion.

There’s something else that is highly unhelpful that I’ve been trying to work on, and that is internalized ableism. For those who are not familiar, internalized ableism can surface in many ways, but it’s essentially the practice of internalizing the ideas, prejudices, and judgments of a society that sees those with disabilities as “other” and unable to “properly” contribute to it; it’s the quickest way to demoralize yourself for something that you have no control over, and I’m incredibly guilty of it.

For me, it’s largely the limitations and issues I have to contend with that come from dealing with any number of things, but not least of which involves my chronic illnesses. I have begrudgingly attempted to make compensations for my physical limitations (most of the time); this can take the form of how often I leave my lair, where I go, what I take with me, who I go with, when I go, what I wear (sun, weather) etc. I do spoon math to decide my activities for the week and individual days and mostly keep within my safe threshold, including being sure to have adequate time to lay down and recuperate when necessary.

The problem is that I have an exceedingly difficult time affording the same consideration for my mental limitations….to clarify, writing is something you can do in a more reclined position, it can be done with some level of accuracy with or without certain necessary medicines in my system, in the comfort of my lair, where I do not have to worry about social energy because I’m often alone; somehow, my mind equates this as something that can be done within my physical limitations that I “should” be able to do nearly continuously, pushing myself to the point of attempting to compensate for the ways I “fall short” (i.e. not able to keep up with social norms of acceptable energy levels and ability to do things).

Fatigue, brain fog, cognitive issues, all are symptoms that I deal with that I always seem to paint over and try to push through…often to my detriment. I become frustrated with my inability to work, I attempt to work, I’m unable to be productive, I get more upset, and it devolves from there. The point is, I don’t allow myself the space I need to accommodate these, and what’s more, I harass myself about not getting enough done….

Ever had a boss that looked over your shoulder (or made you feel like they were), watching your every move, evaluating you constantly, all while yelling at you, insulting you, hounding you about not getting enough done, not doing anything well enough? Yes? No? A little? Well this is me to myself, and it’s hard to get away from me.

You see that I know this about myself, I have for years, and am constantly working on trying to correct these things. It’s not bad to expect a lot out of yourself and push for your best, but it is bad to overwhelm yourself and then get mad about it. At the very least, it’s unproductive, unhelpful, and isn’t the best way to feel good about yourself or what you’re working on.

Which brings me back to things I want to do differently. Rachel Thompson (@RachelintheOC), made two excellent suggestions during the Twitter #sexabusechat last night that I would like to put into action for myself.

First:

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Okay, so maybe I will be reworking my goals a little bit to do this, but it’s not the same way I usually do. Just like she points out, it’s about helping focus, which I sorely need, and it will (hopefully) relieve enough pressure to get a steady flow so that the 5 circled goals can change.

And second:

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One of the best things about this for me is the normalizing of the need for these shorter increments of time to be enough. Beyond the issues stemming from PTSD related concentration issues and into chronic illness, this suggestion was like a breath of fresh air; I’m still at a place where this felt like permission to try something different, something not within “normal” standards of working time, but it felt good, vindicating.

I have some hope that, if I actually keep with these suggestions, and continue learning the language of self-compassion, I think I might just surprise myself….hopefully even in a good way.

Some people need to learn more empathy and compassion for others, some need to learn to have compassion for themselves; either way, the world could certainly use more of it.

How can you be nicer to yourself and others this coming year? Do you have any (reasonable) goals for yourself?

And always

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Review Corner: Assimilation by James Stryker

Months ago, I was approached by James Stryker about possibly reading and reviewing his debut novel Assimilation. After being given a brief synopsis:

ASSIMILATION, a dystopian thriller with LGBTQ elements, follows the struggle of a man who is reanimated in a woman’s body following a cryogenic error. The story’s main character, Andrew, must fight to assert his own identity against the husband who paid to have his wife returned.

I was intrigued and more than ready to dive in.

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It was a slow start for me, though admittedly, it was a very difficult place to take up the story since the reader is not familiar with it or the characters at all yet. It opens with the emerging consciousness of recently remade/reanimated Natalie, except that it’s Andrew….as I said, it’s a difficult place to dive in, but once I was in a chapter or so, past the foggy uncertainty, and into the ability to learn about and connect with the characters and the story, I was hooked.

In fact, I still blame Stryker for essentially missing a few days of writing progress because I was either reading the book, or distracted by thinking about it…

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The novel is told in three perspectives; we start with that of Andrew/Natalie. There are a couple of chapters with Natlie’s husband, Robert’s, perspective to illustrate his inner thoughts concerning the changes he sees in his wife, and what he thinks about doing to make things the way he wants them. Lastly, we have a few chapters from Oz’s perspective (we’ll talk more about him in a bit).

I was a bit jarred at the first switch in perspective because I was not expecting it. In particular I was not expecting Oz’s perspective, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it and not be as jolted by the shifts.

It was soon evident that the author has a gift for evoking an emotional response from the reader, swiftly pulling you into the strange situation at hand; Robert wants his submissive, ‘perfect’, wife and caretaker, mother of his remaining son, returned to him just as she was before the car accident that killed her; Andrew wants to find who is, be who he is, despite his outward appearance being that of Natalie.

While Andrew, attempting to play the role of Natalie, continues to get better and grow stronger while recovering in the hospital, he must face the looming and terrifying circumstances he is in; being “restored” and reanimated by Cryolife comes with a lot of signed paperwork, but also the fact that “Natalie” is under conservatorship for a six month period, where the conservator then decides whether or not to grant full benefits and entitlements to “her” ……just simmer on that one for a moment…

Robert, Natalie’s husband, is the conservator. It is up to him to decide if his wife is “acting appropriately” for the six month period that she will be under observation…packaged as for the sake of safety. Andrew is faced with the task of conforming to Robert’s ideal version of Natalie in order to keep from being returned to CryoLife and “helped” by being put through a process that would essentially kill Andrew and result in any number of possible issues with the newly “restored” Natalie.

Even once deemed well enough to return home, “Natalie” must continue taking antibiotics and other medications, as well as return regularly for sessions with Dr. Zuniga, head of the psychiatric board for Cryolife, and one of the Brigman team that controls the medicines and therapy that Natalie receives, all shaped by Robert’s desires.

It is while picking up the refill of one of these prescriptions that Andrew (in Natalie’s body of course), meets Oz, the pharmacist, and that’s where things start to take a turn for Andrew.

After a most shocking in depth introduction to Oz, “Natalie” begins sneaking out to spend time with him, where Andrew also meets a ragtag collection of fellow reanimated CryoLife subjects, all “returned” more than a little different; one hears an unending loop of the same music in his head, sometimes growing louder to the point of madness, and another with an affinity for things no longer living. For the first time since coming to being, Andrew finds comfort and a sense of belonging, but it’s not with the family that Natalie had made and elected to go through the CryoLife procedure for.

“Natalie’s” odd behavior does not go unnoticed by the demanding, controlling Robert. Behavior such as a complete disconnect from their son, Simon; before, Natalie had been doting, quintessential mom and housewife, but after, she was nearly negligent if not blatantly abusive (secretly drugging Simon with cough medicine to make him sleep instead of clinging to “Natalie”), not cleaning up to Robert’s usual standards (dust on the electric socket…not even joking….), etc. Stryker does an excellent job at portraying a character as a narcissist, one that believes that they are infallible and acts accordingly, including forcing their own desires on other people the way Robert does with Natalie.

Things eventually devolve when Robert finds out that “Natalie” has not being visiting with her best friend, Shelly all the times she’s gone out, but is instead visiting Oz. Again, Stryker knows how to paint a horrifying picture of abuse and abduction, to the point that, as a survivor of abuse myself, I wish I’d had a little more warning, but that’s a personal thing. There’s nothing too terribly graphic, but the inferences and some of the actions and conversations are enough to horrify a reader.

One thing I had a problem with while reading were some confusing uses of pronouns. There were many occurrences where “him/he” were often used without being sure of who was actually talking or being referred to. This seemed to be a particular problem when Andrew is telling the story, especially since Andrew is sometimes referred to as Andrew (he/him), while other times as Natalie (her/she). Using names a little more often would have been helpful in these situations.

Another thing I noticed was an occasional issue with story tense and marking the passage of time. When a character recalls something from the past, there isn’t always a clear marker or segue, or even consistent past and present tenses, to move the reader back and forth between them. Also, things seem to sometimes happen on top of each other; an unexpected and unstated amount of time can pass from one paragraph to the next without it being marked and left to the reader to divine whether it’s been minutes, hours, days, or weeks. This is probably heightened by the switching perspectives without a firm grounding of time.

One other big thing that was difficult for me to go along with is some of Andrew’s reactions; they can be incredibly aggressive, sometimes over the top, often without provocation other than Andrew mistaking something someone said, did, or is thinking instead of asking for clarification (except the pizza throwing, I understand the reason, but the action still felt unnecessary, and there are other reactions that would have been more plausible to me). That aspect was a bit frustrating for me, unless Andrew is supposed to be acting like someone that could have borderline personality disorder. I’m not sure if this is intended to speak to the various drugs “Natalie” is being given by CryoLife doctors, a comment on Andrew’s personality, the damage CryoLife did, or just an attempt to illustrate more conflict, but it didn’t work for me very well.

One of my favorite things about Assimilation, though, is the love and connection forged between Oz and Andrew. Despite the bizarre way they came together, there’s something beautiful about how they are able to connect. At one point, Oz was a mathematician, it was his art, an art lost to him after being reanimated, and Andrew is able to appreciate and see it for that. That really got me, I have to admit, and my description of is it atrocious in comparison to the picture described by Stryker.

I have a few other comments that are or could be possible spoilers so, if you don’t know the drill and you don’t want to see any spoilers, just scroll down until you see the kitten in flannel.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

At one point in the novel, after a relationship between Andrew and Oz has been established, it comes to light the Dr. Brigaman, the same man responsible for CryoLife, is Oz’s father. When this is revealed to Andrew, he makes no real comment about it and has essentially no reaction to it, which I find incredibly hard to believe.

As the reader switching into Oz’s head on occasion, it was no surprise that Brigman was his father, but to Andrew, I can’t imagine that’s expected news.

I’m also curious as to what kind of place Robert takes the abducted “Natalie” to that has doors that lock from the outside, or if Robert changed the locks. I don’t remember seeing any mention of that, or signs that it had occurred. I feel it needs to be explained in some way or else it feels like an added detail just to keep Andrew trapped without having a real basis for it.

The only other issue I have is why Santino, one of the group that has been reanimated by CryoLife and is friends with Oz and Andrew, leaves Oz at all in the Savanah General Hospital after he is hurt; it’s connected to CryoLife, which they all know. I just found it a little hard to believe given the parameters of knowing that Brigman is too close, and that the unconscious are vulnerable.

Other than that, I found the ending incredibly sad, but understandable, especially given the way it ends; since Tinks is the one that hears the music and routinely wants to end things in order to make it stop, it’s a difficult ending, a crushing one, but worthy of the characters in it. I really wish Oz and Andrew could have been together in life and happy; it was a poignant ending, but it worked in a strangely love soaked (and thus beautiful) way.

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Okay, it’s safe to come out and read from here if you wanted to skip possible spoilers.

I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things that may not have worked for me, but I need to make clear how strongly invested I was in this novel once I get into the characters. There are always things that could make a novel stronger in hindsight, but the core story-telling, and the characters, were well written.

If you don’t like sad endings, you may want to skip this one, it’s a heart breaker.

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But if you are willing to brave through it, it’s worth the read, my friends.

Those looking for LGBT+ related books might find it of interest, given the involuntary/voluntary switch from Natalie to Andrew. Also, fans of dystopian sci-fi, but really, anyone that wants to walk away with a story and characters you won’t forget, then Assimilation is worth your time.

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James Stryker has a new book coming out called Boy: A Journey, which I’m also personally looking forward to emerging myself in, if you’ll excuse me….

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