Author Archives: petrifiedbat

Writing, Encouragement, and “Poetry”

When I do my “What’s in Your Suitcase?” school presentation in high schools, I talk about unpacking your personal suitcase so negative events and energy from your past don’t follow you around and screw up your everyday life. I talk about how most of us are lugging along bags that we’ve never even looked at.

I then talk about repacking the suitcase and what frame of mind one must be in to repack a suitcase that one has unpacked. One of my favorite parts about the repacking spiel is: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

I get a good few laughs when I talk about this. I tell the audience about how I’ve met students in classrooms whose life plan is to be in the NBA…but they don’t play on the school’s basketball team. I tell them to think back to American Idol contestants who couldn’t sing one note but based their life’s dreams on making it onto the show. I say, “You have to know what you’re actually good at. You don’t want to seem delusional, do you?”

I tell them to look at me. I say, “I cannot be a ballet dancer. I am a big-boned woman, five foot ten with size eleven feet. I probably couldn’t have been an Olympic gymnast either. I don’t think they make leotards in my size.” I tell them that I was a good basketball player, but not even close to WNBA…though WNBA didn’t exist when I was in high school. Maybe had the WNBA existed for me as a child, I would have felt a deeper reason to play better basketball. Would I have worked harder knowing that an opportunity could come out of that particular talent? Maybe. I’ll never know. Look for opportunity, I tell students. Real opportunity.

In schools, I meet a lot of to-be rappers. Most of them will not rap for me. I tell the audience that’s okay, not everyone can show their strengths on the spot like that.

But then I tell them about the time I met a student who said he was going to be a famous rapper and actually rapped.

I said, “Get out. You can rap?”
He said, “You care about rap?”
I said, “First concert I went to by myself was Public Enemy. 1987.”
He said, “Conscious rap. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
I said, “Show me.”

He looked around, nervous. It was a small class. He was on the spot and there was no way he was going to rap for me.

I said, “So you want to be a famous rapper?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I said, “But you can’t rap for me?”
He said, “Nah.”

I wasn’t going to push him. I know the feeling of being uncomfortable and feeling like my dreams are stupid. Boy do I know that feeling.

A girl in the class said, “How about a battle?”
He shook his head.
She said, “Come on. You’re good. I’ll do it if you do it.”

Inside of a minute, there was a rap battle. She started. He responded. They went two or three rounds and were amazing. I got a video of it on my phone.

Why was this student able to rap for me? In the end, it was encouragement. It took one person from his class to say, “Come on. Do it. You’re good at it.” Encouragement is a big deal. Not just for kids or teenagers. Encouragement is something everyone needs all through life. Encouragement is just a damn nice thing to do for another person.

I’m a published poet. I started publishing in poetry. I’ve known a lot of great poets. I know super-famous poets. I know poets you’ve never heard of but their poetry is just as fantastic. As a writer, I’ve known good poems and bad poems, just like any writer. We can’t be perfect all the time. I’ve known better poets than me and I’ve known better poets than you. And that’s okay as long as poetry is being written.

At some point in the last few years, I met a person who used air quotes on me in regard to my poetry. She said that my “poetry” was _________. You fill in the blank. I can’t remember what she said because I was too perplexed by the air quotes.

airquotes

Um.

“Poetry” is very different to Poetry.
Air quotes are not very encouraging.

I didn’t write a poem for a year or so. I’m not sure why. Maybe for the same reason as those future rappers I meet who just can’t throw down a rap for me while I’m in the class—too embarrassed, been teased by their classmates, been made to feel like they were “rappers” and not just working on rap the way every “real” rapper works on rap in a day.

I was lacking encouragement.
Or worse, fighting discouragement.

I think it’s good to remember that no matter how long we’ve been in a thing, no matter how hard we’ve worked, no matter how many things we sell or know or how many things we write, there is a person who can out-write us. Our job is to encourage that writer. Our job is to remember that as a community of writers, we are all in this together. We are laying down the times we live inside of words that will, all going well, outlive us.

Last night I found the first poem I wrote since I was air-quoted. I’m going to paste it at the end of this blog. It’s not 100% done. I don’t care. The teenagers who rap battled for me did so with raps off the tops of their heads—not revised, not practiced. That’s guts. Not “guts,” but guts.

Maybe you, reading this, don’t like rap.
But was this post about rap?

I have spent my life empowering and encouraging people to find their guts. This takes a balance of tough love and soft love. It takes being able to see that everything anyone creates is real, even if I don’t like it. I am not the sun. I do not get to decide what’s real and what isn’t. Luckily I was grown with my feet planted in dirt. I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.

I can’t wait to see my next high school rap battle. I can’t wait to see one of my high school student writers sell a novel. I hope it’s better than anything I ever wrote. I hope they keep their feet in the dirt, too. I hope more than anything that they never get so near the sun that they choose to burn a fellow writer rather than encourage them.

Fellow writers, hear me: Come on. Do it. You’re good at it.

Ground Naked (Unfinished)
by A.S. King

The beast took my friend.
Ate him up
from the center of his brain.
The beast took my friend
because the beast
was hungry.

Lurks everywhere, this
ugly thing with teeth
dull teeth so they hurt
gnaw slowly. The beast
grinds and expels and
grinds and expels.
My friend was ground.
My friend was expelled.

The world pretends.
The world pretends
we’re imagining things.
It’s happier with naked
celebrity photos or war.

My friend was naked in war.
My friend was ground naked by war.
My friend was expelled naked
by war but the police report
gives no account of
the real killer.

My beast.
My gorgeous beast.
Gets no attention.
Every time they say
he took his
own life
the beast grows hungrier.

Amy

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Listening to Landscape

When I went to dinner, I thought the only souvenir I'd bring home was this mask.

When I went to dinner, I thought the only souvenir I’d bring home was this mask.

When you all saw me last, I’d recently moved. Hours before I came to Vermont, I found and packed five skorts (one of them you never saw because its zipper was broken beyond repair but I brought it anyway as a sort of safety skort, I guess) and a few t-shirts and I told you I’d left my new house stuffed with unpacked boxes.

You will be relieved to know that we have settled in, for the most part. I have been on the move most of the time since July. Three out of the four people in my house started school in late August. I think I found some of my clothing (other than skorts) in September. Then, in October, I released a book and traveled and all of that exciting stuff, so it’s still taken a while for me to really look around my new town. For many months, I knew only the back deck (where I would smoke my vile cigarettes), the view of my tiny yard, my garage, and my strange neighbor who recently retired and who has absolutely nothing—I mean nothing—to do all day long.

But since I quit smoking, I no longer go outside. I mean, I go, but not to sit and notice things. Now I notice things from inside. Sounds, mostly. I hear my new landscape.

We live on a quiet street just a block and a half from Main Street USA. Sometimes there are Harley Davidson motorcycles. Sometimes (more often) there are Amish horses and buggies. My neighbors are pleasant. The ones right next door have a baby and I can hear them on the front porch playing with him, making those baby-love-sounds that no adult would make without a baby in the scene. The other neighbor—the retired one—picks up leaves one by one now that autumn is here and his wife yells at him that he’s stupid trying to clean up the yard in the wind.

A year ago, I was living in the middle of fifty acres of secluded woodland. In autumn, there would be rogue hunters, sometimes drunk. One time, a man shot a doe a mere twelve feet from my house where I was feeding my baby and I walked outside in polar bear pajamas and yelled at him even though he was holding a shotgun.

A year ago, my neighbors—ones I couldn’t see, but ones I could hear—would fire their semi-automatic weapons for hours. When they did so, on the morning after the Sandy Hook school massacre, I experienced something profound and startling. I experienced deep, primal fear. Irrational or not, I shook. I fought a strong urge to take my two daughters into the basement and hide there until my husband came home. All from sounds and memories.

It was that day that gave birth to the book I am writing now. It was that landscape that made it possible—neighbors I never saw, but could hear. It is a connection to my own experience with guns—from being good with a rifle at age twelve to being robbed at gunpoint at age twenty four—that informs this book as I write it.

Who knows what will come from hearing horses and buggies all day? Who knows what will come from the bored neighbor? The baby next door? The annoying twit across the road who gets up at 6:30 on Saturday mornings to blow his leaves into a pile before everyone else does?

I started to write a new book today. I didn’t mean to. It was more of an emetic than anything.

Last night I took my family out to dinner. It was the last night of Día de Muertos and we are a family who celebrates. Before the meal arrived, I went to the bathroom with my six-year-old. One stall was out of order and had a sign sloppily taped to the door. The other stall was empty and large, so we went into that one together. As my daughter peed and I waited, we heard the bathroom door open and close and someone enter with what sounded like a slightly unhappy (but not screaming) toddler. Then things went bad.

I stood in the stall, eyes locked with my daughter’s, as we heard the violent scolding and four hard slaps and then heard the little girl, no older than two, go still with fear. They left as soon as they came in. It probably took all of twenty seconds.

I wanted to say something or do something or be something, but it all went so fast and by the time they left, all I could do was sit down to pee, peek out to make sure they weren’t there anymore and then hug my daughter.

My daughter searched for something to say. “Kids in my reading group get spanked sometimes. We talked about it when a kid in a book got spanked.”

I said to her, “I will never, ever hit you.”

She said, “I know.”

Landscape—where we are and what surrounds us, both physical and non-physical—is important to every story. While I noticed and will remember each chipping piece of grout in that bathroom and the flickering fluorescent bulb that seemed to switch from pink to green and to pink again, I will remember the sound of those slaps most vividly. And I will remember how much tighter my daughter squeezed my hand on our walk back to the table compared to when we’d walked away.

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