You want to be a poet?! My father’s calloused heart scoffed at the idea: why not write a movie? And, I mean, writing is a nice hobby—my mother’s carpal tunnel, ravaged back and hips assured me—but you need a real job! Her skin is blotched with worry, sixty-two and still serving food, cutting hair for tens of dollars. She’s a wage slave in the country that dumped her husband, my father, into a distant jungle, had him kill Vietnamese farmers for freedom, an expensive commodity when traded on the human market. And now she has this son, an unemployed professor, an almost PhD who thinks he’s a poet, a writer, depressed and anxious, on the computer every day instead of getting a real job, steady work, like his father—a carpenter, or maybe you could be an electrician. You’re so good with your hands. I’m really not, mom. I’m clumsy. Oh, stop it, Charlie! Be an electrician. They make good money.
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The past five years of my life have been a juggling fiasco of barely surviving. This new job—the wife’s new job—was the culmination of an entire social media blogging campaign. Bullshit, I realize. I’m exhausted. I’m flat broke. I’m approaching homelessness. I have friends who lived three months without electricity, in the greatest country in the world. More bullshit. I started in the very bottom of this trash heap culture and that’s where I remain—despite my hard work and my “talent” and my many degrees. And frankly, the next asshole who tells me I was a fool to study what I studied, that I was a fool to be interested in poetry and literature and history, well, that person is going to be thrown right out of the cardboard box I’m living in. God blessed what, exactly?
:: memoirs in fragments ::
Next week, when her paycheck cleared, I was going to pay one month’s rent, plus the electric bill. “Then we’ll only be a few weeks behind,” she smiled, wrapped in a blanket, shivering. She was up all night, sick, a stomach thing. Her muscles ache from vomiting. But she had a day off from work today, which was good, she needs her rest. She works too hard. We both do. We work until we’re insane with exhaustion – and I worry for her .. because I love her like air.. and I promised her more than this .. but we were somehow making it – until now .. an email .. a phone call … we’re both unemployed .. at least she can collect .. but without health insurance our medical bills will kill us.. I don’t know what we’re going to do now..
It was a simple shot—casual, yet dynamic. The reporter would speak his lines while strolling through Zuccotti Park. He would appear engaged, involved in the community, going with the flow of this strange new fad called Occupy Wall Street.
Despite his expensive suit, the viewer at home would believe he was just one of the gang—an occupier at heart. Despite his designer hair, his capped and polished teeth, his flawless spray-on tan, he was also the 99%.
Yes, an easy gig. He and the traveling cameraman would get this quick shot, an easy shot, the stroll through—done it a millions times, and leave Zuccotti for more relevant stories. That was clearly their plan.
But Zuccotti Park was not cooperating. Busy people darted in every direction, the cameraman was ready, the reporter started his stroll:
“The blah is blah blah blah at Zuccotti Park in Lower Man—“
“—‘scuse me! Sanitation! Comin’ through!” A wiry, unshaven man walked through the shot. He was carrying two very full, very “not for television” bags of garbage. The cameraman yelled, “cut!” The reporter laughed in that pompous ass reporter way of laughing.
“Ok, let’s try it again.” The reporter took a moment, composed himself, and then, as if he’d been switched on, began strolling and repeating:
“The blah blah blah blah at Zucotti P—”
“Food Services!! Watch Yourself!!” The reporter was forced to dodge as a line of workers marched quickly through the shot. They were carrying several boxes of Clementine oranges.
The cameraman yelled “CUT!!” and flashed a WTF shrug. The reporter huffed that smug guffaw, slightly more agitated, slightly more red in the forehead. He forced a casual shrug in response to the cameraman’s WTF and hollered: “Again!”
The reporter closed his eyes for a Zen moment, then launched, again, into his stroll, into his blah blah blah—then someone began screaming.
“Comfort!!” The wind had blown one of the tarps away. “Comfort!” a very loud female voice screamed, again, to get everyone’s attention. “We need someone from Comfort over here, please!” A mic check went out, and a swarm of Comfort workers flooded past the cameraman, past the reporter, and right through the middle of their shot. I honestly thought the two men were going to explode. They thrashed around in anger, stomped their feet like spoiled children.
I had seen enough. Someone from food services had just handed me an apple, a cookie, and a cup of orange juice. A soothing breeze of incense was drifting from the ongoing drum circle. I decided to leave these two dinosaurs, these two sore thumbs, flustered, annoyed, and ignored—despite their Mainstream Media stardom. I walked past them and strolled towards the drumming, towards the beating hearts of the occupation, towards the new media that the whole world was watching.
She just sat there for a moment—the pads of her five fingers pressed together, a pompous prayer, groping for an opening sentence. She had the swollen knuckles and dead eyes of a bean counter scholar. There were tomes of photocopied data on her desk.
This is the dramatic pause too much TV taught her, I thought, smiling noticeably—wholly inappropriate to a reprimanding—which this was. Her body language told me so—shoulders slumped, gaze toward the floor, spotty eye contact. She was non-verbally screaming her deep displeasure with my interruption of her very important work. But her shame, her repressed rage at her own base hypocrisy, was causing an internal conflict—that pinched look on her face. This internal conflict was, of course, also my fault. I mean, how dare I put her in this position! She had been ordered to reason with me, to lean on me, to artfully threaten me, to do whatever was necessary to shut me up!
You see, the word was out on campus. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had become a “real writer!” my advanced writing students cheered. And you’re a Blogger?! I was. I was blogging about my Vietnam War-crazed father, my battered mother, my shell-shocked family. I owned up to my struggles with mental illness in my twenties. I discussed my desperate lapses into illegal drugs, and the psychiatric and cognitive behavioral therapy that eventually healed my childhood trauma. And I wrote about becoming a PhD student, a college professor, despite it all.
Today is not yesterday, I told my readers. Karma is all about choices, and I had made mine. I was a writer. I was simply going to write what I knew, to the best of my ability, until the world noticed. That was my plan, and I was following it religiously, almost obsessively. I was writing every day, up to six posts at a time: poetic bursts of flashback memory, random fractured family narratives.
“You’re like a faucet rusted open,” my doctoral advisor emailed me. She was reading, comparing me to Byron. The poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan—my former teacher and friend—sent emails praising my powerful poetics, my “strong voice!” The poet Martín Espada thanked me on Facebook for my courage. But worst of all: the students were reading. I was becoming a campus celebrity. This had to be stopped.
So, first came this “discussion” with my boss and former professor, in which I flatly refused to stop writing on my private blog. Next came the academic standard: an accusation of sexual harassment—emailed “anonymously,” of course. And I was not rehired—the following semester—to teach writing.
memoirs in fragments
By Charles Bivona
My fears hunt me down
Capturing my memories
The frontier of loss
They try to escape across the street where
Jesus stripped bare
And raped the spirit he was supposed to nurture
In the name of my
In the name of my
Born of a broken man
But not a broken man
Born of a broken man
Never a broken man
memoirs in fragments
by Charles Bivona