Ever since I was fourteen years old, I have been writing poetry out of a deep, crimson place known as my heart. My heart grew wings that enabled me to survive, even thrive. It is still my heart that interrogates the emotional and physical landscape of my unapologetic, gritty hometown of Joliet, Illinois.
It all began in Athens, Greece, when my sea captain father announced that he would remain in Greece to work, while my mother, myself, and my two sisters were moving to my mother's hometown: Joliet.
Unsurprisingly, as my familial life took a turn for the more tumultuous, I began to write. At thirteen years old, with my sea captain father estranged in Greece, several of my close family members decompensating, and finally, enduring daily harassment from my midwestern peers, I withdrew further into poetry. Academically, I was not a strong student; a lot of what Joliet offered was disturbing: violence, racism, and an overall lack of tolerance. Different entailed having dark hair and eyes, and being a shade darker than a paper bag. And so, different was bad. And so was I, so it felt. Poetry became the invisible, glistening rope that tethered me to the world, yet allowed me to rise above. I wrote while in dark moments, until I learned to see in the dark.
I watched many of my peers become angry, addicted, and, die, often at their own hands. The whole time, I wrote. I wrote as I observed, I wrote as I bled. I watched my mother slowly slip further into alcohol. I wrote as my father vanished further into the Aegean ocean. Poetry was a bead of light sparking out of the sealed, dark door of Joliet. I wasn't sure how poetry would save me, only that it would.
It turns out, I was right: not long thereafter, I hitched up my mediocre grades and slunk into the University of Iowa on a thread and a prayer. I began taking as many creative writing classes as I could, until the courses no longer counted toward my English major. I read fervently, I wrote even more fervently. Suddenly, academia no longer constituted barren, lackluster educators who stared blankly at me as though I were little more than one of their photocopied worksheets. I was granted acceptance to the undergraduate and graduate Iowa Writers' Workshops for non-degree credit. This was the first time I had experienced a group dynamic; and it was like no other. Until then, my attitude had been hostile and morose, scribbling poems in my geometry notes during class. The filthy gray fleece of Joliet lifted. I was home.
Thereafter, I enrolled into an MFA program in New York.I've since had the blessing to work in many other group environments, with myriad instructors. From academic workshops, to writing conferences spanning from the emerald mountains of Vermont, to the arid cabins of Squaw Valley, I have generated my strongest work.
After teaching as an English adjunct professor in New York City, juggling three other jobs, with skyrocketing rent, I packed up my Jeep, and drove until I couldn't drive anymore. I stopped at the literal edge of the world: Provincetown, Massachusetts. From there, I got a job working on a whale watching boat. With my brain euphoric with salt ions, breeching humpback whales, and arcs of dolphins, I began to write again. My friend and colleague, Jeannette Angell, and I formed a weekly writing group. That was three years ago. We have been meeting faithfully once a week ever since. Yet again, the group experience has infused my life. As Joseph Campbell said, "When you follow your bliss, the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls."
And so, the dark door opened. And behind it, I found nothing but light. And myself where I am today.
Naturally, when Heather and Charles asked me if I'd be interesting in becoming a member of the Wising Up Press Editorial Collective, I was thrilled. I had recently corresponded with Heather, regarding a manuscript of mine. It was some of the most thoughtful, thorough, feedback I have ever received. I couldn't believe there was an editor willing to give my work this much time! To me, this is what the Collective is about; being warm, yet challenging for our peers. I've never exited a group collaboration without a breezy exuberance, the urge to spin a stanza. Even as a new member of the Collective, this energetic, warm, and diverse group of individuals already inspires me.
Two years ago, I stumbled across Wising Up Press's call for submissions for the anthology Double Lives, Reinventing, and Those We Leave Behind. The revolutionary notion of compiling stories of regeneration was liberating. As writers, too often do we ascribe to the odious notion that creativity entails being addicted, and alone. As a result, some of the most brilliant minds have perished, often by self-inflicted destruction. I would counteract this maladaptive paradigm with a quote of Nelson Mandela's: "We ask ourselves, who am I to be bright, talented and successful? You are a child of God. You're playing small doesn't serve the world." To me, Mandela's quote echoes Wising Up Press's motto: Finding the We in Them, The Us in You.
Thus, as writers it is our duty to live as largely as we can. In an age where we are fed by media-driven images of beauty, in a country that blindsides us with a chemical mist of superficial values, in a world where we are flooded by data, too fast to perceive, and blaring shows that pass for reality, the only solution is to do exactly what the Collective is devoted to: gather together, in a commitment to honesty, and to disseminate it with awareness. Our playing small does not serve the world. However, as writers, our playing together does.