This Choice is Who You Are has been my mantra these past years: a mantra for becoming the person I want to be. I believe that choosing to live with the attention that poetry demands is a good start.

In the podcasts, I look to other artists to learn from their experiences.

I ask poets how their work with poetry influences the choices they make in their daily lives, and how these, in turn, affect their sense of self and their relationships.

How are they using the experience of art to shape The Good Life for themselves?


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Tim Mayo lives and writes in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he is also a mental health worker at the Brattleboro Retreat and a substitute teacher.  He holds an ALB, cum laude, from Harvard University and an MFA in Writing & Literature from Bennington College. He’s also been studying circus arts and flying trapeze at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vermont, off and on for the last ten years.
His book The Kingdom of Possibilities (Mayapple Press, 2009), which was a finalist for the 2009 May Swenson Award  and a chapbook, The Loneliness of Dogs (Pudding House Publications, 2008), which was a finalist in the WCDR 2008 Chapbook Challenge in Ajax, Ontario, Canada.
Tim Mayo’s work has appeared in a long list of journals, and his many awards include the International Merit Award from Atlanta Review 1999 and 2000; Finalist in the 2009 Paumanok Poetry Award Contest and five Pushcart nominations.

 

His most recent book is Thesaurus of Separation, published this past summer by Phoenicia Publishing:

 

As the title suggests, Tim Mayo’s carefully structured book deals with the multiple forms of separation: separation from the past, from a sense of family, a sense of belonging and ultimately from the self. His poems capture the sense of alienation many of us feel in this contemporary world where we want (as the poet does in “The Yellow Afternoon”):“the inexplicable to be/explained and the eggshell of answers/to close over the yoke of our questions.” Full of surprising phrases and metaphors (“Trapezing,” “Darning Needle,” “Self-Storage”) the poems ring with important truths such as: “you must accept the perennial fly/its karmic place in your ointment,” and “what do we know about the world/except what we know about ourselves.” These poems are extraordinary and generous gifts.  


—Patricia Fargnoli, former New Hampshire Poet Laureate, author of Winter and Then, Something

Poems read or referred to in the podcast:

“The Body grows without-” by Emily Dickinson
Upon Julie’s Clothes” by Robert Herrick
“The Remedy”, “Crow”, “Puppet Therapy” and “Shelter” from Tim Mayo’s new book Thesaurus of Separation

 


Original music and artwork by Karl R. Powell.

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In regard to casual sexism*, “Imagine how you’d feel” is never going to be a persuasive argument in this discussion. But I don’t think it’s because of a lack of empathy. It’s because of a lack of perspective.

On both sides.

I believe it’s extraordinarily rare to find a person who doesn’t long to be the object of someone’s desire. (On one’s own terms, of course.)

dsc_0154
A scene I capture in Milan a few years ago. It has stuck with me.

And the uncomfortable truth is that female beauty is power. It is influence. A woman’s beauty is often equated with a man’s wealth in our culture. There’s a reason that the most common tactic to attack feminists is to disparage their appearance: Ugly. Old.

“Envious.”

And there’s a reason those attacks so often silence some of us (okay, possibly just me) momentarily. We stop, look honestly at our envy and question ourselves, “Wait, wait…” Then we come to our senses and realise envy of that particular power is not that big a deal. It is both fleeting and utterly circumstantial.

And dangerous.

Because it’s also like walking around with your million dollars hanging loosely around your neck  – on the end of a garrotte.

I have been twenty-something and the center of attention in a roomful of influential men who were ostensibly impressed by what I had to say. I wasn’t gorgeous, and I am not saying those situations were complete farces (I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat intelligent), but being an attractive-enough twenty-something was always a foot in the door, at the very least.

Although these days I have to be “aggressive” to get anyone’s attention, I wouldn’t be twenty-something again for the world. Because, now, when I do have people’s attention, I can be sure it’s because of the content of my ideas. I don’t have to doubt myself. And once I have wedged my foot firmly in that door, I no longer have to worry about what’s on the other side.

I honestly believe there are some good men out there who don’t understand the pervasive sexism in our culture because they are blinded by their own envy.

“How would you like it if I said you had a great ass?”

It is easy to imagine the power of being desired. The kind of desire that leads people around by the nose. That keeps people up at night. That causes them to make stupid decisions, to act impulsively. Even young girls recognise and want that power.

So much Power: it sells everything from chewing gum to automobiles. It’s face has launched a thousand ships, and when painted on the sides of bombers, it kept morale up in the face of death during wars.

Men who say that they would take it as a compliment really cannot imagine that such beauty could be the cause of humiliation and powerlessness. With an entire culture that puts so much store in women’s youth and beauty, how can we blame these men for their lack of imagination in regard to that particular question?

“How would you feel if women whistled and called out, ‘Hey, sexy!’ whenever you passed by on the street?”

Complimented?

Well, yeah. Because those men know that a woman who is not sexy or beautiful is failing at being a woman. Just look at the magazines women read. Let’s not pretend this is simple.

On their own, a few cat-calls are a few cat-calls. In the context of our culture it contributes to systematic oppression. In this case the devil is not in the details, it is in the sum and context of the details.

Men are judged by their accomplishments (which I admit carries with it a whole other bag of questionable values, but irrelevant in this discussion). Women are not.

Youth&BeautyR/NOT ACCOMPLISHMENTS,theyre theTEMPORARY happy/BiProducts/of Time&/or DNA/Dont Hold yourBreath4either/ifUmust holdAir/takeGarys

–  Carrie Fisher

It’s confusing when we are told we should be valued for who we are. I am not exactly sure how to divorce accomplishments from “who we are”. Do we divorce DNA from “who we are”?

I’m still working on all of that.

But I do know “who we are” should not be objects for other people.

Still. As a woman, I admit that losing that particular power has been a painful process. I know that I am not alone in this experience. We women go broke, cut ourselves up, and inject ourselves with poisons to avoid it.

And isn’t that simple fact an indication of how difficult it might be for men to “imagine” that being seen as an object of desire isn’t always desirable?

There has to be a better way to discuss this. For all our sakes.

Let’s not pretend the issue isn’t more complex than an imaginary turning of tables would have it.


*Please note, if you haven’t already, that this post is about casual sexism – not sexual assault. I know that these issues are connected, but they are also distinct. To conflate them is to accuse the hundreds of thousands of good men (and women, by the way) who contribute to casual sexism of something far worse. These same good men and women would rather bite their own arm off than sexually abuse someone. Ignoring that will get us nowhere but stuck in our defensive corners.

img_20161015_143848It was one of those days that the Norwegian poet Tor Obrestad called white days. I’m sure he’s not the only one to have called them that. But translating his work, it was the first time I’d run across the phrase. I found “white days” much more beautiful than “overcast”. More sensual. And therefore more meaningful.

Usually, when my translation work comes up in conversation, Norwegians comment on how rich the English language is compared to Norwegian. Then I spend ten minutes trying to convince them otherwise.

Yes, the English dictionary is thicker, unwieldy at times for even a native speaker. And I suppose that is the point. More does not necessarily mean better–even when it comes to vocabulary. Throwing more words at an experience doesn’t guarantee better communication.

I find a lot of the English words to be analytical. A self-conscious step removed from sensual experience. And it is my impression that, when it comes to self-conscious descriptors, English can’t touch German.

Take the word angst, for example. One cure for which is Norwegian nature.

This weekend’s hike (2 hours) began as a walk along a tractor road. Then a steep hike, stepping stone to tuft to stone to avoid the gaps that can clamp down suddenly around your ankle to jerk you into stillness. Down again, and over the moorland (giving up being prissy about wet socks). As we climbed again, balancing on the sharp edges of quartz-lined rocks, we could hear an underground brook. The Norwegian word is pipler. Not babbling, not bubbling, not popping.

It’s times like this that I wonder over what I have gained and what I have lost settling here. How tied is the landscape to the language? What does it mean to be tied to the land and still not tied to the language? I suppose it leaves me still searching always to describe;  leaves me picking apart the experience, and comparing it to what went before–what might be transferable as a kind of metaphor, because I have never heard that sound anywhere but on the moorland here, or along the shore where the water and air tangle between the stones.

Then again, I can recall so easily the hot, gritty sidewalk-dust air of Bakersfield. I don’t know of a specific word for that either.

At the peak, the wind blew my phone from the selfie stick and it landed face-first on a rock that shattered the glass. So much for the Survivor case.

I knew there would be some kind of divine punishment for getting a selfie stick.

Is it always “or”
Is it never “and”

– The Baker’s Wife, Sondheim.

I’ve forced myself to run. Forced myself to move through the morning asanas. I’ve had a good breakfast for the first time in weeks: real eggs and homemade salsa, instead of a plastic cup of protein powder and tap water. And still I have to force myself to sit up straight at the desk. And force myself to write.

These days staying healthy is taking all the discipline I have. And then some.

Take a deep breath. Shoulders down. Let the back expand.

I am ten again and swimming in a spring somewhere in Nevada. And  matter how bright the sun is shining on the surface, cold currents bite at my ankles, like tiny monsters.

These are deep days. I believe most writers will admit to being seduced by their own darkness: when everything appears flat, the tug of anxiety and the welling of tears from somewhere unknown can actually be a comfort: there is still a bit of dimension, a form of sorts.

And tiny monsters can be muses. Unreliable, but they tap you on the shoulder just before you wake, and they whisper things to make your heart beat hard enough to force you to take notice: Your heart is beating.

20161008_142349_dde2f9aaI’m never more in touch with everyone I’ve ever been, than when I’m on the edge of drowning. All memories are comforting memories, seen from at least one perspective. So knowing this too will pass is a comfort–and not.

In the photos I take on hikes, the light and the shadow interplay, but is it difficult these days to experience both at once.

To engage with one, without losing sight of the other.

I have never been addicted to anything.

(Although there were years when I struggled with a compulsion to eat raw pasta, that is hardly the same thing as an addiction.)

This is actually a bit odd, because according to all the research, I am a prime candidate for gambling, alcoholism, or worse.  But now I have an addiction to social media. Facebook, to be precise.

It’s not surprising. On Facebook, sometimes I feel visible.

Most of the time, I don’t.

I suppose the vicious cycle of chasing the very occasional high is the same mechanism of all addictions, though.

Addicted to Likes. And hearts. And “wow” faces. And I’m addicted to the diversion.

I am so miserable/angry/offended/envious that I am blissfully unaware of  (thus, not responsible for) my own procrastination.

The scientific studies out there tell us how destructive social media addiction can be. The comparisons we make. And I see that. The dissatisfaction I experience because I am not the poet I know who paddle-boards with famous friends in the afternoons, who lives on the coast with a view of the ocean. I’m not as pretty, not as successful, not as admired–It is sometimes overwhelming: all of the things I’m not.

I often say that I’m not competitive, but that is not true. Aren’t we all? At least with ourselves? What would be good enough? The grass is always greener. And we are all on the Hedonic treadmill.

There are also those who say to follow your envy. Acknowledge it to yourself and you will know what you really want.

Yes.

And no.

This used to make a lot of sense to me. But if what I want, what I am chasing is the image of having done something, of being something, rather than the experience of doing, then envy is not constructive.

dsc_0258-3Since this summer on the plateau, I have fantasized about the quiet.

I’ve wanted to move to a cabin out there and live an isolated life, to call on friends to appear when I am in the mood. (The social exception to the rule of my solitude.)

There would be images of me (taken by God-knows-who) alone on the porch, wrapped in a hand-made blanket, a mug of boiled coffee in hand: the poet looking wistfully over the landscape. There would also be images of candlelight dinners with glinting wine glasses, my lover and all my laughing friends: all on Instagram.

And I would be pretty. Elegant. I would have that x-factor of literary royalty.

I know that isn’t the real world. But it is a horrifying realization: that, at my age, on the level of idealisation of a perfect life, I am still operating with such a narcissistic conceptualization of the world.

In my real life I know better. I need to spend more time here. Because I seriously doubt I would like paddle-boarding , and this whole envy-thing is nothing more than another diversion.