Have you developed or revisited any pandemic hobbies?

First, it was getting back into yoga. I started with Sky Ting livestreams and Karin Dimitrovova courses.

My next project was planning our move across the country, from New Orleans to Berkeley.

After we settled in, I was on the road to a promotion (which happened), and I also recorded a bunch of film footage (one poetry film, one documentary profile), but I have completely fallen on my face as an editor, so it's all sitting in a metaphorical vault.

After failing to learn Adobe Premiere Pro, once again my focus shifted—this time, to painting.

Painting has been fucking amazing. I used to paint in high school, mostly acrylic and watercolor. I used to paint objects, too. I painted my bike, my classical guitar, and random household goods. I still have a few relics from those days.

So when I decided to order paint, canvas, and brushes, I already knew exactly what I was looking for. It had been over 10 years. It was actually a hobby I picked up during my time in a mental hospital in high school. It was one of our teen ward group activities.

(Sidebar: In a way, being in a mental hospital is like being in lockdown. You have a lot of free time to occupy. You're isolated from the outside world. Most of your interactions are limited to the people in your immediate vicinity or your therapist.)

But back to painting—picking it up came so naturally. Since, I've been painting a lot of abstracts. I haven't done any larger pieces yet. My focus has been honing my skills on smaller canvas boards. The bigger canvases are still sitting in my closet. I've been playing around with color and composition. As a photographer and filmmaker, a lot of those composition skills have been easily transferred to abstract painting.

Most of all, though, it has felt like pure freedom. It's like being a child and playing. I have such a rich, dense writing education, that at times I become preoccupied with perfection—perfectionism feels directly opposed to freedom.

That factor is what stunts my writing the most. There's also a lot of fear of failure, since I've been trained around so many 'career poets' who I simultaneously admire and am intimidated by.

By contrast, I have no stake in the outcome of my paintings. At best, I'll post them on my portfolio or they'll decorate my house. Maybe some will be gifted to close friends. That's about it. Poetry is different for me. I want to write well, and I want to get my work published.

I think there is a lot to learn about my writing from the process of creating a painting. I hope to adopt those lessons in freedom and transfer them to my writing.

But fuck, writing can be challenging. It's not the writing, but rather plumbing one's own depths, facing one's own shadow. I've been doing that in my meditation practice, but it's so vulnerable to think about anyone seeing it.

I have been writing a lot, but I haven't found any public homes for my work because of the level of vulnerability. I don't even like being on social media anymore because I've been enjoying my privacy.

I've recently attended several writing workshops. It is something that feeds my soul, yet for a long time it felt so inaccessible. I have always struggled with burnout from working too hard at jobs, and I also actively avoid interacting with strangers, which always made it an easy decision to avoid in-person workshops.

Now with everything on Zoom, I could suddenly attend numerous workshops across the country. So far this year, I've taken workshops with Echo Park Film Center, Kundiman, (W)rites of Passage, and (soon to come) The Home School—all incredible organizations to support, by the way.

I also started film photography on a old 2002 point-and-shoot and got into the extremely nerdy hobby of mechanical keyboards. As a writer, mechanical keyboards have this typewriter-esque nostalgia. Or 3rd grade typing class nostalgia, perhaps.

In case you were curious, I built a custom lilac Drop ALT keyboard with silent switches.

I used to use a shitty Apple Magic Keyboard that has a gross, tinny sound when you type on it. My typing experience is much more elevated since switching. Elevated is an understatement. It has been glorious. It is almost ecstatic, that feeling of typing on my custom-built mechanical keyboard.

I also recently got a reMarkable tablet, basically a skeuomorphic e-notebook that you write by hand on. That's where I've been doing most of my reading and writing—but I've been hoarding all my writing on there instead of transferring it to my computer.

(Also, I just learned the word 'skeuomorphic.')

I remember how enthused I used to be about sharing my work, sometimes on social media or when I'd get a new poem published online. Now, I'm like, wow, this is forever. The internet is forever, and anyone who searches my name for all time will see my work.

That's one benefit of having your work in print: only the people who really want to see it will, not curious coworkers, gossiping family members, fake friends, or random people's exes—which hasn't happened to me ever. 😆

“It's their shit, not mine.”

That's something I need to recall in moments of reaction.

The only thing I own in times of conflict is my own reaction.

Every single conflict goes this way, and many conflicts would not escalate if each of us could hold this—what's yours is yours, and what's mine is mine.

If I'm in a reaction, it's typically filtered through the baggage I've brought into a situation. Perhaps it reminds me of the way a parent, ex, or random stranger once treated me. In fact, the feeling is identical in my body. (In CPTSD diagnoses, it's called an 'emotional flashback.')

Same charge, different day.

The previous iterations of these familiar feelings are a hall of mirrors or ones own voice echoing through time and space.

I always find myself back in the same fun house.

• • •

I used to think people were more emotionally stable than me, but I now know that isn't true.

Sure, I had potato chip-level fragility when I had to go to a mental hospital in high school, but once I was there, my inner strength immediately buoyed me. It was less challenging to be there than the so-called reality of my daily life.

All that is to say: I was stable; the world around me was not. And still is not.

It seems like most people have no idea what the fuck reality is. Unstable is normal—normal as in the neurosis you find in the average member of society. Those who I once saw as more stable than me, I now see are deeply asleep and would not want to be shaken from their slumber.

Even the “woke” are sleeping. When I meet someone whose awake, it shakes me. Like all things, it's a spectrum.

• • •

I remember meeting this woman at Skid Row. We sat and talked for an hour at my desk in the employment office.

Skid Row is flooded with Christians, especially the kind with white savior complexes. I had grown so used to their rhetoric, trained into them by years of church and seminary.

This woman was not like them. She was a guest at the shelter I worked at, and I while don't remember a single word she said, I can clearly recall the light in her and the fire with which she spoke. I feel it pulling at my heart, even now.

She was awake—at least more so than anyone else I met those 3.5 years. She told me about god in the exact way I've experienced the divine: grace, surrender, fire.

I found myself in community with many devout evangelical Christians around my middle school and high school years, too, due to schooling and family. A church song that always stood out to me was called something like “Refiner's Fire,” a metaphor where god was an artisanal craftsman working with fire to refine his material. (I always imagined metal or glass).

As a result, I had always associated life's struggles as “the fire which refines”—the pain that shapes and elevates us to something closer to perfection or otherworldly transformation.

I remember years ago binge-watching Charmed on Netflix (the OG one, obviously), and one of the main character's partners is an angel who used to be human. He essentially lived his early life training to be an angel.

I saw myself in it. Something clicked. What If I was living my whole life for the purpose of ascending to the rank of angels? For a long time, I studied Buddhism among many other Eastern and Western traditions. Is that not what awakening or “enlightenment” essentially is?

I remember I used to think people who were into angels were so weird and cringe until I became one of them. I have one teacher to thank for changing my mind about that. Now, I think angels are the fucking shit.

There's this woman, Doreen Virtue, who published several books and oracle decks.

I once listened to a talk she gave at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, an iconic spiritual bookstore in West Hollywood that sadly went out of business and re-emerged years later as an online (and less magical) shop.

She spoke frankly about her relationship with angels.

I never liked oracle decks until I tried Doreen Virtue's. That woman was incredibly connected to high spaces.

She eventually became an evangelical Christian and denounced all her previous work as demonic.

I'm not sure what happened to her, but it's worth noting the artist behind the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, Pamela Coleman Smith, also converted to Catholicism (although not evangelical Protestantism) shortly after completing the RWS tarot—one of the greatest births of light of the 20th century.

Again, I still don't know what that's about, but I'm sensing a pattern here. Maybe it's that people awaken, then go back to sleep.

• • •

Anyway, I'm here today to say that 99% of the world is unstable, and that's an overly generous estimate.

The people who seem the most unstable often have a brilliant light that struggles to exist in this dark world where light is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

But how does this all relate to reactions? Simply, it's not your shit, it's mine. It's not personal. Their shit is theirs, my shit is mine.

Most people you meet will make their shit about someone else. The inverse applies, too. It's far too easy to make my shit about someone else. But it's not.

I’m contemplating what to do my next film project on. I feel a passion for film igniting in me, but it’s not really about film, it’s about elevating my poetry to the level of accessibility of film, in a sense.

I’m also noticing such a transformation in how I come to my art now, versus when I was a writing student.

I have so much more of a command of my artistic expression, one that translates many mediums.

There are a lot of ideas I can pursue in these upcoming weeks, but I’ll get the most value out of pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

Filming some beautiful footage as a backdrop for a poem is too comfortable.

What is uncomfortable? Myself as a subject—there’s some comfort and discomfort in that. But I also feel in it a desire to filter and becoming too conscious of how others perceive me. If I can fight against it and show myself raw and true—that’s where I step out of comfort.

At the same time, I can make something else entirely. I can create something about my partner, Tyler, a subject I would love to endlessly cover. But that almost feels too fun and self-indulgent to film someone I admire, someone I have access to every day. Also, happiness is boring, and I’m not entirely sure what purpose it would serve me besides self-indulgence. Maybe in the future, but not for this project.

Light bulb flash: The story behind the Nikita film is going to be about the desire to disappear, vanish, erase oneself, die. For example, not wanting to eat because you want to leave your body. Becoming a ghost.

But what about this other project, the one with the endless possibilities?

I keep thinking of Gummo and all the found footage in it. Part of me wants to find footage. I reached out to family members, but I don’t think there are many home movies that will be available to me. There are the ones I have, however.

I can also get more experimental, but honestly, that feels too easy, too. It feels like a way for me to cover up something, step back from the rawness—just a reaction to the fear of being naked.

It's a question I've been pondering for the last year. If I did start one, it would be something small and accessible for my immediate poetry community. Say, for example, 5 curated poems per month via email.

There's no money in poetry, so it'd have to be something with a relatively low impact on my day-to-day life that is also scalable in case I want to adapt it into poetry e-books or something of that nature. But it should also live online so that those featured in it can link out to it to showcase their work. As a poet myself, I know there's a lot of value in that.

My friend Polina West runs a Substack newsletter called “Lollipops and crisps”. She just migrated over from TinyLetter, and I love the email format. It's more intimate, and you know exactly whose reading your work. Plus, there's an archive that lives online, which I find important.

Polina also recently released a very zine-like, DIY-style, hella punk collection, IRL IRL 005, published by Human Trash Dump. IRL IRL was started by her and April Vendetta, who runs Human Trash Dump.

One of the notes in its description is, “IRL IRL is looking for less anxiety inducing or habit-forming methods of sharing ideas and communicating amongst ourselves & with 'the public.'” In other words, Polina and April are geniuses, and IRL IRL takes on a very “fuck social media” stance without actually saying it. . . which is essentially the same sentiment behind writing a low-traffic blog instead of harnessing the power of social media to get my 4,000 followers (spread across various platforms) to consume my work.

Now, Polina can say anything she wants, and the people who consume it have already opted in. They want to see her work. And that's the power of email, a power social media (arguably) no longer holds. She's not under the thumb of the algorithm, and neither is her work. I'd also like to note that IRL IRL submissions are via ProtonMail, which is consistent with her values.)

I've even faced a dilemma about starting this blog. Are blogs dead? The truth of this space is that I want to talk about process and showcase what I'm working on for anyone who is curious about work. It's for the select few who are peeping my work, maybe those who want to collaborate or are just straight up creepers.

Honestly, I'm not even sure what it means to talk about “process.” I often think of the cerebral, inaccessibly “cool” poets and writers, especially those deeply steeped in academic circles all jerking each other off intellectually. I also think of how empty that feels to me.

Since CAConrad has had an immense influence on my work and life, I immediately think of their (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals, which is a form of discussing process that is non-pretentious and also very punk.

I just need to decide what suits me when I discuss process in this space. I guess in a way, that's what I'm already doing.

So, start a press or not? I guess we shall see.

If you know of any writers or artists owning their spaces like CAConrad and Polina, please let me know.

If you're interested in publishing a poem through my future press, please reach out to me, too.

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