Archive | August, 2015

We Contain Multitudes. With or Without the Little Dudes

31 Aug

First as always – the thanks yous:

Thanks to Your One Phone Call for giving this poem, Universe, a home and to Commonline Journal for accepting this one about waking up in the middle of surgery….cause that was all kinds of “awesome”.

************************************************************************************************************************************************************

gustav-klimt-mother-and-child-80958

Gustav Klimt’s Mother and Child painting

So I read this piece the other day by Amanda Palmer (musician, living statue, author, shit stirrer and soon to be new mother) a response to a fan who was displeased with her (Amanda’s) decision to procreate and it really struck a nerve which, considering I don’t have children, I found sort of odd.

A little background on that whole childless/free thing. My husband and I are both writers who keep full time jobs. That means that in order to get the real work done, we need to make sacrifices. The main sacrifice we have made for the last decade is sleep. We both get up at 4:30 in the morning, five days a week, in order to get some writing done. On the whole it’s been a fair trade. Prior to doing this I barely got anything done. Since then I’ve written 3 novels and 2 books of poetry almost all of which has been accepted for publication or already published. So though I’m dead in the water by 10 pm, I still do it.

That said, we have at different periods in our life both causally and seriously debated having children. I know lots of people that are and have been decidedly in one camp or the other but for me, I feel as though the uncertainty about this choice is how I knew I was taking it seriously.

Like if I was 100% YES KIDS or 100% NO FOOKING WAY then maybe I wasn’t really thinking the whole thing through. There’s good and bad to everything when you put it on the scales.

So we waffled for awhile and then, over time, as our lives changed and we traveled more, we slid down the shoot into the No Thanks Camp.

And then I got cancer.

The first oncologist I saw, rather condescendingly, told me to save my eggs because even if I *think* I don’t want kids, he’s seen loads of women regret that choice and you’re only 37 blah blah blah. Needless to say, this guy isn’t my doctor. Once treatment actually started another doctor posed the same question and when we told him no, we weren’t having kids, he mimed wiping sweat off his brow and said, “Oh good. That makes my job way easier.”

And there it was. Crystalized and sharp, like a knife cut.

The thing that I had always been empowered by, the CHOICE that I had made and subsequently re-made was magically no  longer a choice.

It went from being a thing that I did, to a thing that was done to me.

In case you don’t understand, these are very very different things.

And my feelings about it were a surprise even to me.

I wrote a poem about this exact thing in which I said this:

And right there everything comes together

Needlepoint sharp.

I see the split in the road and it is permanent.

There is a cold hard difference

between setting down something precious

and having it pulled from your hands

still wet with afterbirth.

And in that moment I learned that we contain more multitudes than we even realize.

So when Amanda responded to a fan who proposed that now that she was going to have a kid that she would be incapable of making good art, or art at all, it got me thinking….if this disease hadn’t happened to me, if my husband and I had changed our minds, how we would manage to make art with a child?

I believe in my commitment to writing. Even though it’s hard, I pull myself out of the bed, I stare at that empty screen every morning and try to cobble together some record of what it’s been like to live in this world, in this life. And I believe that if the desire was strong enough, we would have a kid and find a way to make it work. I have no idea how but I believe in us enough to know that we would. It might have been messy and it might have been hard but we would have done it.

Like Amanda says, “Jump and the net shall appear.”

To say that mothers can’t be artists or artists can’t be mothers is to, once again, limit the potential that women have. To tell them that with their one beautiful life, the only one they will ever have, they can only choose to be one thing.

I reject that.

Did anyone send Amanda’s husband a similar letter? I can see it now:

Dear Neil Gaiman,

Now that you’re a father, I guess all the award winning books and stories are going to turn into sentimental schlock because that’s what fathers do, right?

Signed,

A Disappointed Fan

No. Of course not. That sounds ludicrous. Because the American dream, i.e. I Can Be/Have/Do Anything I Want As Long As I Work Hard Enough isn’t applied across the board evenly.

Or maybe it’s because America doesn’t consider art-making “real work.”

The same way it doesn’t consider motherhood to be “real work.”

Every time we limit ourselves to one signifying descriptor, we lose the chance to find something amazing in ourselves, our lives and the people around us.

These terms are just terms. They don’t have to have power. Women have always made art. And they have always been mothers. Men have always made art and they have always been fathers.

And business men

And we have always been sons and daughters.

And leaders and liars.

And thieves and lovers

and kings and queens.

The point is we all contain multitudes with or without the little dudes.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

P.S. – here’s a great list of books that address this whole motherhood and art thing. And this movie!

Advertisements

How to write about writing when you’re not writing

20 Aug
The dreaded blue cancer folder

The dreaded blue cancer folder

Hi.

So I took the week off writing thinking that I would get this new book in order (in my head at least) and of course that hasn’t happened.

But here’s a few cool things that did happen:

  1. I got a piece published by xojane.com. It’s my first foray into nonfiction and the fact that it’s Jane Pratt, of Jane and Sassy magazine fame is pretty exciting. Sixteen year old me is basically convinced that I have reached the highest possible publishing high imaginable. You can read it here.
  2. Many thanks to Stephen at Dead Snakes for taking these poems.
  3. And to Dissident Voices for publishing this How To Be An American poem.
  4. And speaking of the How To Be An American book, my publisher sent me some pdfs and the proofs are on their way and guys, seriously, the cover is by the amazing Oscar Varona (here’s some of his work!) and I just love it. I’m really excited about this book. It’s been a really interesting experiment in privilege (assumed and real) and paying attention and really listening to how people perceive the way Americans think and act. The good and especially the bad. The book should be out soon and I’m interested in putting together a reading so my fellow NYC poets, CALL ME! We can do this together. It’ll be a party!
  5. And finally, now that I have dipped my toe into nonfiction writing I’ve got another idea brewing and I need your help!

Here’s what I posted on facebook, twitter and the YSC (Young Survivors Coalition website – which is an amazing group of women, under 40, with breast cancer)

I NEED SOME HELP!

So I want to write a “thing” (article? blog post? I don’t know yet) on the cancer self-blame/other-blame thing.

Things I’m looking for from you guys would be stories that you personally experienced as a caregiver or a patient, or a family member, or a friend etc. Nearly everyone I know has in some way been touched by cancer so I know you’ve got some good stories.

For example that knee jerk reaction that most people have when they hear that someone got lung cancer to ask if they were a smoker.

Or comments about eating the wrong things, not using suntan lotion, not having kids, drinking, smoking, oral sex (looking at your Michael Douglas), whatever you’ve got.

My story: When I saw my surgeon for the first time, I had to fill out an intake form. One of the questions was how much did I drink. My surgeon immediately latched onto this. At a very vulnerable time, 2 days after diagnosis, the seed was planted that this was my fault. That I caused my cancer. A year and 2 months out, I’m still trying to dig that out my head.

Share your stories with me. Cancer has a wicked blame stigma (much like HIV) because it’s this boogeyman that everyone grew up with. I want to talk about this stigma.

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving comments, then message me or email: ally dot malinenko at gmail dot com

And please SHARE this with anyone you think might have a story to tell. Let’s change things.

Thanks guys!

So there you go. Susan Sontag wrote about this blame/shame/game in Illness as Metaphor. If you’ve got a story or experience please let me know. So far people have shared really amazing bits – comments nurses have made about organic eating…patients who have demonized their past and convinced themselves that they have thrown off the trajectory of the life they were supposed to have…. a patient being told that her husband’s smoking caused her cancer, etc. And it’s not that people do this because they are mean or judgmental, it’s just that cancer is scary and so very misunderstood. When people hear that someone has been diagnosed, especially someone young, they immediately need to draw the line between them. What did person X do that I’m doing? How can I save myself?

The line of thinking is somewhere along this: “Oh you smoked, That’s why you got lung cancer. Oh your eating was bad? That’s why you got (fill in the blank) cancer.” But that discounts all the healthy people who get cancer – the ones who never smoked or drank or ate bad food or got fat. It can’t always be explained away so easily. In fact more evidence is pointing towards bad luck. I think the car analogy in that piece is especially telling.

Anyway, I want to talk about this. So if you’ve got a story (even if it’s about another illness) then please share. You can comment or email me (in the about page) whatever works.

In the meantime, remember, a little empathy goes a long way.

Peace, Love and Starbursts,

Ally

Morning Commute

12 Aug

Hey, he says,

Hey,

you look like my wife.

You Indian?

Hey, he says,

You Indian?

Let me show you a picture of my wife.

Look at that.

Ain’t she gorgeous?

She looks Indian.

But she’s a Puerto Rican.

Ha!

Isn’t that funny.

I was so excited.

Thought I bagged me an Indian

or a Pakistani

and then she tells me

No man, I’m Puerto Rican.

Whatever.

Close enough, right?

She’s still beautiful, right?

Like you.

I gotta say, I think you’re the most beautiful thing

on this train.

I mean, look at you.

Like my wife.

Right?
What’s your name?

What?

Sasha?

Oh, Dasha.

Like with a D.

That’s very exotic.

I like that.

You’re Indian?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Dasha, I’m Anthony.

I gotta tell you, I know I said it

but seriously

you’re the most beautiful thing

on this train.

I’m not bothering you, right?
I mean, you got a book.

I can see that.

I don’t want to be bothering you.

I hate those creeps that bother people on the train.

It’s just when you see a beautiful girl like Dasha here,

you gotta say something.

They gotta know.

Like I tell my wife all the time.

Women need to know.

Right buddy,

hey buddy,

hey buddy, you listening?

Look at this girl.

This girl, Dasha,

that’s her name.

Ain’t that exotic?

Ain’t she gorgeous?

Like my wife, right?

Gorgeous.

Only in America, right buddy? Only in America do we get women like this.

%d bloggers like this: