Today’s song is “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” by Courtney Barnett, from her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
It’s that time of year again, the Hallmark of b.s. holidays we fall for every time we see it, like a horrible ex, who was great in bed: Happy Valentine’s Day! We spend money on wilted flowers, sparkly mushy cards with professions of love that read like a word salad, lard churned drug-store Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, and overpriced-under portioned dinners at restaurants where we are sardined in a can, hoping to get something in return.
I may be a little jaded, but I would rather take it all back. I would rather drink with my friends on Galentine’s Day. Or any day, really.
Consequently, Valentine’s Day has a way of nagging away my painfully single human existence, just a little bit. It’s only painful if I cared. Then, I reminisced lately about the past as if it were something great, someone great. The thoughts would ebb and flow as I zoned out to whatever I have been binge watching all week.
I recollected my past relationships and romantic encounters as if I were trying to remember what to buy at the grocery store.
I got a text last night, which read, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to say hey.”
“I’m thinkin’ of you too…”
I didn’t actually text that in response. I said something like, “same here” as to be slightly vague and sarcastic. He knew what I meant. We both stay in touch randomly, which I suspect is to ease his singledom. It doesn’t matter to me.
His random text made me think about how a few years ago I had a different life. I would have dates booked back-to-back on weekends, and went to upscale restaurants, roof-top bars, and concerts. I was always surrounded by people, but somehow felt even more lonely? Did I not appreciate it?
As I shift back to the present, I think I would rather bury myself in my hoodie and watch Rick and Morty than deal with the constant search, the mind-numbing dry-wall conversations, the awkward good-byes. Rinse and repeat.
But what’s the point of the mundane every day? I make it sound as if I am as lonely as a microwavable dinner, but I am lucky for what I have. It’s not all bad. I enjoy loving myself and others in my life, even if it’s not the romantic love of partner. I love my spending time with my family. I love having close gatherings with friends. I can talk to anyone if I feel like it or choose to simply be. I love making people happy even if it’s just cracking a joke to make my students laugh, because they had a bad day or listening to a stranger’s problems, because I “seem like I am a good listener and won’t judge. ”
No matter how alone we feel at times, we must remind ourselves of how we fit into the universe and that there are people in that universe, too. Our actions can have a ripple effect on others, good or bad. True happiness comes with self-acceptance in numerous ways. I accept that although I will be single on Valentine’s Day, I am not alone. You are not alone either. And sometimes if you are physically alone, it can be a good thing. Take some time for yourself and enjoy your place. Remember: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” It may not be a life-changing quote, but it can get us from the present to the future. It may not be a great place where we are, but remember, there is a possibility it can change for the better, tomorrow.
Today’s featured contributor is local writer, artist, and activist, Monica Noelle Simon. Monica wrote the following about herself and her work:
Monica Noelle Simon is a poet and visual artist residing in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She explores the world through written word, spoken word poetry, acrylic paint and ink and paper sketches. In 2014, she created #BeKindScranton, a grassroots campaign to bring more compassion and kindness to Northeastern Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Elite Daily, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Burningwood Literary Journal, Commonline Journal, Poets of NEPA, and HelloGiggles. Her work can be found at: http://www.poetrybymnoelle.tumblr.com.
Here is her poetry:
Alligators are no joke
They will jump out of the swamp
While a horse peacefully drinks water
And take his whole life under
It seems the horses are just naïve
Almost blind to it
And I guess in the end
The alligator isn’t hungry anymore
But ask me any day of the week
And I’d still rather be the horse
all you need to be a scientist is yourself
and maybe a theory
and maybe a way to test it
to be clear: i never asked for the storm
but i wanted to learn
to test its power, its strength
match it up against my own
so while they all hid in basements,
shouting their warnings from tiny windows
begging me to come inside
i sat still and watched,
a lonely endeavor,
stubbornness masked by science
i am here to learn
maybe it would’ve been better if he reverted back to sea
or if i’d just let the rain suffocate the side of the house
while i sat inside, warm, drinking tea
instead i became the continent
with bustling cities, intricate contidictions,
and i wanted to prove that even after he came,
i would still be standing, and i was,
with a heart collapsed, brain shaken up
inability to tell right from wrong
maybe i never asked for the storm,
but why did i have to wave it on from the shoreline?
and afterwards the people, all dry and warm,
came out from their houses,
all arms with hoarded hugs,
surprised i’d survived it, unsurprised i wasn’t the same
helped me clean up, even among their resentment
i just had to experiment, i just had to observe
a scientist curious about things bigger than myself
always explaining, excusing,
“hey, i never asked for his storm”
and as we wander among the rubble
shattered glass, leveled towns
the question remains…
did i learn?
… of reading tragic poems laced with love and ugly, the likehood of Ginsberg, Plath, Bukowski, Kerouac. All destined for death, as everyone else. All martyrs and depressants, gasoline added to hearts already on fire–
… of an apartment much to quiet, air rationed and used up with panic demanding more attention than a lightening storm in February, with ghosts packed in, all faces of people I recognize but don’t know–
… of the stark difference between the narrative and the reality of burning buildings, flood waters leaking pain and poison all over the goddamned place–
… of waking up when you’d forgotten, forgotten all of where you’ve been, wondering if you were ever even there. men with theories on philosophy, political climates colder than poles, tricks and treats and trollies, rolling away like runaway cars–
… of questions never asked, answers flashing like a lighthouse after you’ve already crashed into the shore. summer with it’s long days of playfulness, my atoms bouncing in the heat, I swear I’ve forgotten how to properly breathe. him a problem I’ve grown to love, as if being lulled to sleep by the sound of termites using their teeth, expensive repairs budding from senseless hesitation–
… of cars and paint and floors speckled with the residue of tears with no label– why was I crying? of murder and suicide, the destination of death and the value of the visit. itineraries and lectures, cookies tasting of magic, secret dances on the beach throwing stones into the waves, proving anything can sink if it’s heavy enough–
… of what comes next. timelines dissected with joy, happiness, and raw red pain. a blank canvas, we all just wait for life to throw paint. we all just hope it turns out pretty.
Monica Noelle will be reading her works alongside other powerful female writers, performers, and musicians at Grrrls Night: The Galentine’s Edition, this Friday, 2-16-18, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Ale Mary’s, located 126 Franklin Ave. Scranton, PA 18503. There is no cover charge, but a suggested donation to the NEPA Youth Shelter.
Marcie along with other local gifted writers will be reading their love-scorned works at the “Love Bites, Writers Circle” reading, Friday, February 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Game Chateau, located 1112-PA 315 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. The cover is $5 at the door.
Sometimes it’s daunting to do an interview with your boss. But when you have a talented and sweet boss like mine, it makes it easier.
Mischelle Anthony is a poet, department chair, associate professor, and Poetry in Transit creator hiding and writing in plain view. I honestly don’t know how more people in Northeastern Pennsylvania don’t know about her and the good she does for our community and its local university students.
Professor and Poet
For more than a decade now, Mischelle has been teaching in the English Department at Wilkes University. Her favorite thing to teach isn’t creative writing though—and it’s not really even a class. Her chosen subject matter is getting her students to analyze structures and to find what the piece is actually about. She also likes to have students analyze first-person plural narrators. The “we” fascinates her—and it’s even better when the narrator is unreliable because it’s, as she says, “way too true to life.”
But it’s not all unreliable. Since 2007 Mischelle’s creation, Poetry in Transit, has been a staple of Wilkes-Barre. Not familiar with it? Just hop on one of the Wilkes-Barre buses and you’ll see the fruits of her program. Poetry—short poetry—lines banners on all of the city’s buses for riders to read and enjoy. The program idea came to Mischelle when she was on the #6 bus that runs from Luzerne to Wilkes-Barre. She and the other usual riders she talked with on their commutes would read the advertisements for fast food and community groups. Often, they’d be encouraged to find a breakfast sandwich when they got off at their stop from the encouragement of said advertisements. Mischelle thought—why not give riders poems that they can read and talk about on their bus rides instead? She mentioned it to the marketing department at the university, who offered to pay for the program for the first year or so. After that, the bus company had had such good responses from their riders that they cover all of the costs of the program now (after a grant that helps out). Poems are switched out every month, and the program gives local writers the chance to submit their works for consideration each April. Submissions are chosen by English departments of five local colleges each year and in late August the launch of the new set is held in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Writers in NEPA—watch for the new theme coming this April.
She’s not only busy on the buses or in the classroom though. Mischelle is also a poet who’s been writing since her piece about her Cheer Bear Care Bear she wrote at just nine years of age. She admits she hadn’t taken creative writing too seriously until graduate school, but since then has been active in poetry and writers circles and has been published often in American Chordata and, by the poetry press Foothills among others. Much of her writing focuses on her family and growing up in Oklahoma. She feels “it’s the only thing [she] knows how to write.” She credits this progression in her writing to Sir Richard Hugo, for after having read his Triggering Town (about how writers need to find the one subject that is theirs—and then keep writing on it), she realized her days in the Midwest were what she had to tell others about in her writing. One of her poems, “Keep Your Eyes Open,” which was recently nominated for Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net Award, treats the subject of her Aunt Karen’s rape that the family avoided talking about, and only finding a voice in Mischelle’s work.
Fertile Space and Sage Advice
Mischelle stresses that to become a better writer or a published writer, you need to gather with other writers and be a part of writing community. “This is not a world for writers—we need each other,” she says, and goes on to say that it needs to not only be writers—but it needs to be writers that you can trust showing your work to as well. Whether it’s writing groups or workshops, just try to find other writers you know that want to get together and share writing and ideas. Creating a positive environment is crucial to being able to feel confident to keep producing writing and to be able to test out the new. This “fertile space” will yield more pieces and more words and will give you a chance to figure out how to think about your writing in new ways. And that’s what it’s really about.
And here, a taste from Mischelle Anthony:
Sure, we had cowboys. I knew five
men from different families
with “Bubba” worked into
their State Fair belts. But my town
was no metaphor. The dairy farmer’s
son grew up a banker with that
fieldstone walkway, every Saturday
digging irregular shapes in the clay.
His shovel tangled in chickweed,
sent up red eddies from his sloping
lawn. We all sucked our teeth
when his corner bank went under.
We worked stalks of dried grass
with our tongues, nursed porcelain
mugs at the Cafe. Some of us sympathized.
Most didn’t. That family had it coming
with their Lincolns and slacks. Mr. Morris
approached the wife’s office, belt buckle
shining over Lee denim, to show that woman
she deserved it, perched there while electric
hands swept around the dial, her buzzing
typewriter’s metal ball ready to strike.
Later we recalled a prairie woman captured
in some silver-screen Western, pale dirt rivulets
dividing her skirts, straddled
by a Seminole who made her swallow
her own jeweled chain, the necklace
stubborn as a bull snake in a well line.
I want to tell you the superintendent
sheriffed in, paunch spilling over
his trouser snaps, and defended her
from the savages. But he didn’t.
My town was no metaphor—
the secretary lived, no sticks or stones,
just a quiet dinner that night,
my father’s grim mustache
over the Swiss steak,
my mother smiling, smiling
across the dark wood expanse,
even as she choked around
the clasp and settings in her mouth.
This week’s vibrant featured artist is Mike Reznick, who describes himself and his work in his artist statement:
“The way I found art was due to my dyslexia, as images helped me learn. My art is created through things that either happen to me or that I have found interesting in life. I prefer freestyle mixed media painting with basically anything that will make a visual mark on whatever object or canvas I am working on. My go to supplies are usually acrylic paints, airbrushing, paint markers, and speedball ink. “When in doubt drip it out” has always been my motto throughout my self taught career in art. A lot of graffiti/tattoo artists have truly helped me hone my skills in along this artistic journey.”
Reznick is hosting and presenting his works in the upcoming collaborative art exhibit, “The Broken Heart Art Show,” this Saturday, February 10, 2018 from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at “The 570 Gallery,” located at 59 N. Main St. Wilkes Barre, PA 18701.
Songs & Dances: A Collaborative Exhibition will feature the collaborative works of Melissa S. Short and Justin Rowles. Together, the pair’s art is wild and unpredictable, intertwining the worlds of song and dance. Their exhibition will be during First Friday Scranton, PA, February 2 at POSH from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Melissa’s work opens a door into the visual world of music. The colors in her pieces flow in a mixture of hues and textures as vital and intentional elements of songs.
A Pennsylvania native, Jerry Wemple writes frequently about the people and places of the Susquehanna Valley. His work includes three poetry collections: You Can See It from Here, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winner Yusef Komunyakaa for the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, The Civil War in Baltimore, and most recently The Artemas Poems. His poetry and essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies including internationally in Ireland and Chile. He is the recipient of several awards for writing and teaching including a Fellowship in Literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Word Journal chapbook prize. He is a Professor of English at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.
Jerry’s featured poems for “The Obsequious Pen,” are the following: “Nickel Rides,” “Bridge,” and “Tapies.”
Back in the days when your grandfather’s father,
maybe his father, was a young man down at the shore
amusement piers or the scruffy city lots over near
the wrong side of town, they used to call them nickel rides.
Steel boxes jacking up and down, bucking around,
make your back feel like it was worked over with crowbar,
your hips like they was smacked with a plank.
Back in my day, word was out about those nickel rides
on the Philly streets. I was in from the country, hard
down by the river and the woods, but even
I knew what was what. Saw clear enough that one day
while stretching my legs near the 30th Street station
waiting in between long-run trains, when the paddy wagon
pulled up and four cops jumped out, jumped a man I hardly
noticed, whacking him good with long sticks. I figured soon
enough that I needed to take a left, cross the street,
head up another, act like never saw nothing, especially
a side-vision glance of him being cuffed and dumped
in the back of the wagon for a nickel ride. That unit
screech-lurching down the street like the driver wanted
to bust the brakes and run out all the gas all at once.
First off, the war on drugs is a concept. There ain’t a war on drugs;
there’s a war on people. All wars have casualties, atrocities.
All wars have losers. Only some wars have winners. Tonight
I see Charm City up in flames. Orange tongues of fire taunt
us from brick buildings. The old people say it’s just as it was
back as the King riot, nearly fifty years ago. They say
the neighborhood ain’t changed much since those days.
We had one good store. Now it’s burnt. Kids too young to remember
Tupac let alone Reverend King dodge in and out of focus,
like they were spun off their own nickel rides, dazed from the experience.
Philly, Baltimore, D.C. – I’m not much for cities. But a twist of fate,
a change of luck, and I could’ve been. Missed being born in Baltimore,
city of my conception, by a few weeks or a month. I got a parcel of kin
buried in the German saint’s cemetery in the Manayunk section of Philly.
Generation or two before them it isn’t hard to fathom other blood kin,
all those years removed, being sold in an auction lot in swampy D.C.
Of course, there’s a war on despair, too, though not official
and having no spokesperson. It’s often erratic, explosive even,
but is long-going like the rest. Likewise, despair too is a concept,
and so needs a people enemy. And sometimes it’s them, but in the end it’s us.
Me, I avoid the nickel rides. I watch on my TV what’s happening
one hundred fifty miles downriver in slacked-jawed sorrow.
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no.
-- Richard Hugo
Tuesday night and I’m driving over the river bridge
that connects the old highway to the village.
The bridge is long, and low, and lighted.
Rain water drips from the rounded steel side railings.
No other traffic is on the bridge, and I think
how easy it would be to pull to the side,
slip from the car, and slide into the darkness below.
It’s been raining for days: the water is fast and cold.
It would only be a moment.
Tonight firefighters and volunteers search
for a seventy-something woman who disappeared
in another village ten miles downriver. In two days
they’ll find her washed up a bit farther down,
jammed against a log on the north end of Packer’s Island.
Had she missed the island, gone another mile or so,
she’d have spilled over the dam at the south end of Sunbury,
churned and churned in the water until morning
when some passing trucker on the nearby bridge
phoned it in to the county dispatch.
The woman’s husband knows she always gets sad
come the short days, the long nights, that he needs
to be on guard when she says she’s going for a walk.
He knows, despite the saying, there are some things time
does not erase. Cold rain can seep deep into the hollow.
I’m no expert, but I remember from my Navy days:
a few minutes in the water this time of year and the limbs
go numb, breathing is labored, the heart is taxed then
shuts down. That’s why it’s rare. Damn near no one
walks back out of the river once they go in.
Tonight I finish my trek across the bridge,
turn right on a side street, pull into the lot
of a neighborhood grocery. Inside I say hello
To the store clerk, then search the bright
Ordered aisles for the things I need.
Hot summers we played ball in the carnival lot
using tapies, old baseballs, covers worn and gone,
held together by quarter rolls of electrical tape
pilfered out of our fathers’ garages or bought
from the discount bin in Guffey’s Hardware
with pennies and nickels earned from bottles
redeemed at Jean’s corner store. Those summers
Were hot, the nights never cool enough, still
Mornings we’d be out by eight, the air already
heavy, sky filled with a haze that would remain
until the evening rains. We’d pound the ball all
summer, using wooden bats too long or too short,
too heavy for our arms. With tapies, even the kids
without mitts could catch a fly ball, though we usually
had enough gloves to go around if we picked sides carefully
and shared. Those days our fathers, or worse,
our stepfathers, laid off from the mill would drink
cheap drafts from noontime on down at Shaffer’s Tavern,
watching the Phillies lose again on an old-style set
with rabbit ears and adjustable dials, mounted
sturdily on a corner shelf next to the Schmidt’s
beer clock. The men would grouse about the heat,
about the snow last winter, about maybe moving
to Florida, someplace where there was no need
for the expense of winter coats and winter tires.
And sometimes in the fall a kid would be missing:
Bobby, or Timmy Mathis who lived a few blocks over
past the Spruce Street cemetery and who none of us
much liked anyway. Still, he was good for another
outfielder, willing to play catcher, and now he was gone,
disappeared. Our fathers would sweat as they walked
the afternoon blocks home, just in time to cut the backyard
before supper. We’d scuttle home too, dusty, scraped,
our shirts and hair matted wet. After supper, our fathers
might take a call on the kitchen phone from a cousin
who says they’re hiring drivers up at the bread plant.
But more than likely they’d go out on the back porch
with one more bottle of F&S beer and think about how
two years ago, when the mine shut down in the town
over the mountain, six hundred union jobs just disappeared.
And we’d drift back over to the carnie lot for a few more
innings, play a few minutes past when it was too dark
to see the ball. Fireflies would be blinking in the deep
outfield. And when it was our turn to bat, we’d swing
with all our might, smack that crinkled cover of the make-do ball,
hoping to make it safely home.
The Writers’ Showcase is an event that features readings of poetry and prose from Pennsylvania based writers. The Writers’ Showcase: Spring Edition will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W Market St. Scranton, PA from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Admission is $4 at the door.