Joe Weil is a poet, musician, and activist, whose work has appeared in National Labor Forum, Boston Review, Saranac Review, On PBS, and Verse Daily among many other publications. Joe is a featured reader in the upcoming Writers’ Showcase: Spring Edition.
Joe’s featured poem is called, “A Litany of Questions.”
A Litany of Questions
Whose house are you?
How many days have you
rolled up the scroll of your being?
And if the hour should come,
come like a procession of
dignitaries, like a parade of
paupers, like something set
loose upon the grain fields at twilight,
what will you say to each room?
Will you say I was a house but
for whom I do not know?
Could you smell the scent of dirt
on the night’s cracked hands?
Was jasmine your concern?
Did the peepers singing in the wet marsh
receive you? How many years more
did you hear them? Were you
my house? Did I walk beyond
the lintel of your doorway, and sit in the near
dark, listening to the susurrus of
wind through your walls? And how did those
whispers accompany the first feint stars?
Was that a fox in the field or only the last
light scratching its back against the stones?
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.
Today’s song is “Answer” by Phantogram on their album, Three.
It is what we owe each other. Not what you or I are owed: we are owed nothing.
Or at least that’s the way it should be.
I used to be bullied all of the time as a kid: I was called names, had garbage thrown at me, and had been threatened from time to time. In my adult relationships, I was verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. I used to absorb the hatred and blame myself. Now, I vow to take in hate and produce love like a tree takes in Carbon Dioxide and produces Oxygen. I give air for people to breathe to the best of my ability.
Gestalt theory states our whole perception is greater than the sum of its parts. If we apply this concept to society, shouldn’t we be greater than just the sum of individuals? Then, what the hell is wrong with us as a society? Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why are we so selfish?
I used to think in terms of what I did or didn’t “deserve.” It’s not about me anymore or any of us, specifically. Our world is too fragile to distribute “just desserts” all of the time.
I had an intense discussion with my college students yesterday about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Gun control aside, I asked them, as mental health advocates in training, what are we going to do to help prevent these tragedies? How do we identify those suffering and stop them before they cause destruction? How do we heal those who have survived? They discussed how they felt unsafe on our campus—a place I see so picturesquely serene and isolated from the world. I vowed to do something to protect it, to protect us, but I don’t know what it is yet.
It is each of our responsibilities to be a part of the solution. We need to stop focusing so much on ourselves to the point that we destroy the people we love or let them succumb to the evils of this world, like self-harm. We may feel as if we do not have control; however, we do. We can love the people we care about so much it hurts. We don’t have to love everyone, but we don’t have to hate either. Hate is a choice.
So, what are we going to do about it? We need an answer.
Chris Hodges is a talented emerging NEPA based artist. He describes himself in the following:
Born in England I drew on and off for fun as a child. After being told I had a good eye for art I started to apply myself. I recently gained enough confidence to start displaying my work in public. I have been painting for about a year and drawing for several years. I enjoy trying new mediums and pushing myself out of my comfort zone artistically.
I will be showing at as many venues as I can get into locally this year and will be trying to get more exposure in the coming years.
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.
Melissa Short’s upcoming art exhibition is beyond the stars! According to Short, “T H E P L A N E T S”is a seven part series of paintings that follows Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, “The Planets, Op. 32.” This orchestral suite corresponds to the solar system. The concept of the work is astrological rather than astronomical, which is why Earth is not included. Each piece is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the influence of the planets on the psyche, which she titled the following:
I. Mars – The Bringer of War
II. Venus – The Bringer of Peace
III. Mercury – The Winged Messenger
IV. Jupiter – The Bringer of Jollity
V. Saturn – The Bringer of Old Age
VI. Uranus – The Magician
VII. Neptune – The Mystic
You can see a preview of Melissa’s work on our Instagram page: thirtythirdwheel.
You can see Melissa’s exhibit “T H E P L A N E T S” at The Library Express Bookstore on Friday January 5, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. located at 300 Lackawanna Ave, Scranton PA, 18503.
Today’s featured song is “If it Makes You Happy,” from Sheryl Crow on her album, Sheryl Crow.
Let’s all admit 2017 has been a shitshow in so many ways that it can be interpreted as a teen dystopian novel with elements of dark comedy (covfefe) meeting the traditional dystopian novel elements, like mind-numbing government thought control through the media (I slightly exaggerate, though Fox News adds elements of dark comedy as well). Furthermore, perverts in power ran rampant (seriously, Louis C.K., I’m not surprised at all—you aren’t that funny and to quote you, you are a “bag of dicks”). I am glad these creeps are finally getting the hypothetical kick in the balls they all deserve. At least we are driving away from the traditional narrative that middle class white boys are the only ones that can truly save the world (e.g. Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, the Giver, to name a few). They are beloved classics, but it’s time to move onward and not look back.
Overall, for the lot of us, I believe 2017 has been seemingly the year of some terrible life choices, difficult, decisions, sprinkled in with some bad luck, and grasping at straws for promises of good times. However, this year was a much-needed wake up call to make positive changes. I spent the first half the year living a picturesque lie that my relationship and career were going somewhere—clearly that was a disaster. I kept seeing my family, friends, and coworkers moving on with their lives—getting married or engaged, building new successful careers, buying houses, and generally getting their shit together, while I’ve been lucky to have work at all. It could be worse, yet three part-time jobs leave me a bit confused about my life and unfulfilled. It has been the longest December of my life, which I am being dramatic. You wonder why I didn’t choose “Long December” as my song of the day? I have my reasons not to dwell on the past.
I tried everything I could do make things right and I keep looking for answers, but it all lead to dead ends. All of my crossroads lead me to the same conclusion that people let you down, but life goes on. I would use the colloquial analogy that finding good people is like cracking pressurized coal to find the diamond in the rough, but I learned that that’s not how diamonds are naturally created. Diamonds came before coal existed. Then again, diamonds can be made from the toughest circumstances.
With the new year approaching, we set ourselves up for grandiose expectations. We make New Year’s resolutions. And ladies, I know some of you have dropped a few hundred bucks at least on buying a fancy dress, shoes, matching accessories, and make-up to fulfill our societal expectation of meeting beauty standards (I have been there). We have survived the pricey $100 ticket to get into hypothetically classy parties where separated guys in mid-life crisis offer to buy you drinks that are included in the price of your ticket and you eat dried out hors d’oeuvres to later throw them up. Or you have paid the $20 cover to have some brah-dude buy you watered down, over-priced well drinks that you accidentally spill because some woman in a too short tube skirt and 6-inch stilettos “accidentally bumps” into you, spilling your drink on your satin dress that doesn’t handle stains well. The situation makes you look like you peed your pants at recess in second grade and everyone in your head is pointing and laughing. Then, “Stilettos” runs off with the guy who just bought you a drink.
We have all been there, despondent and alone in a world surrounded by people we hopelessly try to connect with.
Better yet, let’s just bury ourselves in our favorite hoodies and say, “Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling,” or watch Netflix, or whatever it is we want to do. The quest for happiness is a harrowing journey sometimes. We bury ourselves in staring at computer screens at work, making lunches for our kids, cutting the crusts of the bread just right, and paying bills, that we forget what happiness is. We think, “if I just had this one thing,” whether it’s a vacation, an engagement ring, or a dream job, we would be happy for life.
There is no happily ever after. Sometimes, there isn’t even a happy for now.
But there’s a way we could fix that. I may not be an expert on happiness, but after all of the mistakes I have made, I know what not to do.
1. Stop looking for outside validation
I have learned quickly that at work and in other aspects of my life, that no one is going to tell you are doing a good job. Most of the time people aren’t going to say anything, unless you are doing something wrong. Take it as a compliment. If people aren’t telling you anything, you’re probably okay. And if you’re looking for attention from people on social media, sit back and watch what people like if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t look like you are a mystical fairy waif who doesn’t need to wear a bra, has a triangular tattoo in the shape of a fox, and wears clothing people left behind at Coachella, don’t bother. Although I think these things are ironically cool, I realize that it’s just a representation of someone I am not. If you think that men and transgender don’t go through body image issues, you are also sadly mistaken. We all occasionally look to be our best even if we tell ourselves we don’t care. Even “mystical fairies” have problems. Don’t judge and accept what you are given. Make the best of it. Lastly, stop looking for relationships to validate your existence. Having a significant other (SO) might be nice, but that person shouldn’t be your reason for living. If you don’t have a SO, stop looking for one. They aren’t going to make all of your problems go away. It’s great to get positive attention, but if you think of it as not worrying if the person cares about you, but worry more about if you care about them. What happens the day after and the day after that?
2. “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do”-John C. Maxwell
If you don’t like your life situation, whatever it is, get your shit together. Get it together, and put it in a backpack…(my favorite Rick and Morty rant). Stop whining and taking things so seriously. We all fall prey to being sad or angry when our needs aren’t met, but look at everyone else. There are people who have things worse and might need your help. You don’t have to save the world, but you give a little cheer or assistance in little ways. I think being a substitute teacher is like clawing nails on a chalkboard of life. Kids can be obnoxious, they don’t listen to you, act as if you are garbage at times, and try to make you feel like shit (it occasionally happens), but when you are persistent in being the person you are without cracking, it eventually dissipates. You even get a few of them to crack themselves and they stop acting like assholes for a little while, maybe even inspire them to spread their own kindness. I think this philosophy works not only in my job, but in life in general. Treat people with an open mind, but be firm with your boundaries. If you are afraid you are going to be a doormat, you may as well be a quirky inviting welcome mat that you can pull out from under people when they deserve it the most or when you need your space.
On a continuation of pursuing dreams, give up the stupid “New Year’s Resolution” bullshit. If you want to make goals, don’t tell anyone. The more you talk about it, you will feel like it’s already been accomplished, and you’ll never do it. And if you are going to tell someone, tell someone who is going to join you on your goal journey. Goals are best accomplished when you have others who are working with you, not against you. Some people feel worse when they are reminded of what others set out to do or accomplish. They are not your friends. Lastly, if you are making goals, make sure you can do them on a regular basis. Don’t set a goal to go to the gym everyday if you know your schedule is unpredictable. Make goals that you know you can achieve and want to. This month is when I decided I needed to move on, so I sent out hundreds of job applications across the country, which I plan on continuing. Let’s see what happens.
3. Realize when things don’t make you happy.
What stops us from being truly happy is not recognizing what makes us unhappy. This is often difficult, especially when concerning relationships with others. We sometimes get ourselves involved in relationships that are like slot machines. They dispense happy moments at random unexpected times that keep us wanting more. Rewards that are random and unexpected are often the most rewarding to our brains. We become addicted to people or things who act like assholes, because we had scraps of good times. Maybe those good times were the best times we had, but it’s all an illusion when we realize the relationship is based on wanting something more. You can apply the same principle to vices. You might think drinking alcohol and smoking pot excessively on a regular basis makes you happy, but you are probably masking sadness, or something else much worse. Think about my discussion above about New Year’s Eve partying rituals. We set an expectation that everything is going to be fun, and a lot of times it just goes to hell or nowhere at all.
Happiness can also be considered a place, which is literal and figurative. We can have all of the things we hoped for, but it snows 8 months out of the year and we hate being outside in the cold. Sometimes we could ignore our surroundings, but when the highest temperature is 20 degrees three months straight, it gets a little unnerving. Or even if you enjoy your surroundings, but you are not getting fulfillment from your place in life, your job, friends, family, or purpose. Happiness is not necessarily in what you get, but what you do.
4. Do the things that make you truly happy.
We are not doomed to be sad and hopeless. We can take control over our happiness to some extent. Think about the last time you were truly and consistently happy. Were there times that you spent with your friends, not worrying about having a good time, not worried about posting it on social media? Were there times that you accomplished goals you sought to accomplish? Were there times you felt truly relaxed and not worried about what the world thought of your happiness? Were there times you made someone else happy without thinking about what you got in return? Were there times you felt happy being in that moment, in that place in the universe where everything seemed right? Those are truly happy moments. Maybe a vacation or money can provide those things, but remember, those are just tools aiding in your journey to happiness. You can spend the New Year’s chillin with friends at a small house party with take-out pizza, karaoke, and corny paper crowns. Or you could spend time with your family talking about the good times and planning an exciting future? Or just be happy being by yourself, not caring about what everyone else is doing? I’m not saying partying will only lead to disappointment or that a $200 sexy dress you bought on sale won’t make you feel better, but be in the moment. And if you don’t like it, take that shit and put it in a backpack.
Best wishes to you and yours. Be safe. Happy 2018!