Author Archives: Charles Bivona

About Charles Bivona

Poetic Writer, Writing Professor, Educational Activist, and retired Ass Model: I've worn many hats. Luckily, I look good in hats.

Way Beyond Bloomfield, New Jersey

A woman who works at my bank said I’m “worldly” because I knew the history of India and her home country, Pakistan. I know her home region well enough, in fact, to have pleasant conversations about current events while she deposits my weekly client checks.

An Egyptian man working in a coffee shop was surprised when I recognized Tahrir Square on his portable television set. He was stunned, actually, I could see it in his face. Then he smiled broadly. The last thing he expected during his lonely late night shift was a political conversation about Hosni Mubarak’s forty year emergency with an unusually chatty white man.

A former student turned friend from Bangladesh reverted back to orthodox Islam. She stopped by for lunch in a hijab—something new—with her new husband, a very sharp young man from Palestine. They were shocked when, after we’d finished our food, I offered the privacy of my bedroom for their afternoon prayers.

That’s how it’s been for me since 9/11, since graduate school, since a close friend and colleague from India nervously asked me, on 9/12, to start walking her to her car after classes. Since then a wide array of people from a variety of black and brown skinned countries have said to me—usually in anxious, hushed tones—that I’m not like most Americans they meet, and they really appreciate it.

As the great grandson of immigrants on both sides, that’s embarrassing to hear. I find I spend quite a lot of time apologizing to some very lovely people before I can comfortably enjoy their company. I’m not sure what else I can do about my dysfunctional culture, to be perfectly honest. But I’m open to suggestions.


Bookstore Living

Some people laugh when I say I live in a bookstore, but as the years have unfolded since academia, more and more of my private library has become the inventory for the #njpoet bookstore—Active Voice Books on Amazon, officially.

My stock has also been helped along by friends and family who’ve donated boxes of their used books to support my cause. My cause, that’s what one old friend called it when he stopped by.

“I figure I get rid of some clutter,” he said, stacking his few boxes in a free corner of my home office, “and I help support your writing life.”

Which is most certainly true. The bookstore pays more bills than any professor job I’ve ever worked, and I’ve become something of a reading consultant to friends, family, and clients of our growing web dev/social media marketing company, Active Voice.

“I want to read about love,” said one client who stopped by for a business meeting, “serious books about love, though, not Fifty Shades of Shit.”

She left with a stack of seven books—poetry, philosophy, novels—and a PayPal invoice in her email box.

This social blessing has given me the freedom, the time to read and to study and to write, time that I’ve longed for since I got my first “real job” when I turned sixteen years old.

So, to keep things optimistic in conclusion, that means it only took me twenty-six years to establish myself as an independent scholar, writer, and poet in the great old U.S. of A. Just over one quarter of one century. Not too shabby for a shy kid born into a Vietnam-torn working class family in late July, 1972. Say word.


New Jersey Politicos

By far my favorite part of Governor Christie’s fantasy run for president in 2016 has been the political ignorance it’s exposed among my fellow New Jerseyans. More than one local stranger, in fact, has hollered at me in public about our governor and his highly unlikely presidency.

“I don’t care what you or these so called primaries think,” snapped a friend of an acquaintance at a party I really should have skipped.  “Chris Christie will be the next President of the United States!”

So it’s been. Then today, in The Huffington Post, something new.

In the last two weeks especially, it seems as if the political press has decided en masse to start spading the graveyard soil over Christie’s once-lush aspirations for higher office.

But I’m sure that poetic point won’t matter much to Christie’s local supporters. It’ll be fun to see how my New Jersey friends and neighbors react when he finally drops out of the race. Any day now, folks. Stay tuned.


Department Store

I could hear them bickering before they turned the corner. She’d dragged him to this department store before he’d finished breakfast, apparently. He was still protesting.

“But I was still hungry,” he said as they walked past me. He was visibly upset.

“I don’t really care,” she snapped back. “I have things to do. I don’t have time to sit around waiting for you to finish eating.”

She looked frazzled, manic, like she hadn’t really slept much. He looked just as tired. She rushed ahead like someone trying to complete a two hour task in just under a therapy hour. He shuffled behind her, dragging his feet and complaining.

“I’m really hungry!” he insisted, then abruptly stopped walking, folded his arms, refused to take another step forward.

She just kept on shopping. And he just stood there, fuming, until she was about to turn another corner. Then he ran after her, frantic. His little toddler legs moving as fast as they could.

“But mommy,” he whined as he stumbled, “I’m hungry!”

He wasn’t much older than my youngest niece—just turned three, or maybe almost four.

“I said I don’t care,” she snapped back, again, as he caught up and they turned the corner together. “You’ll just have to starve until lunch time now. I don’t wanna hear it.”



I told her my depression is finally lifting, and she thought I meant the seasonal blues that hit me every winter, but I meant the depression that started when I was 19 years old. I told her it felt like waking up from a long, dark nightmare—only to find myself being handled like a fragile child.

She didn’t like the sound of that.

“Why would anyone treat you like a fragile child?” she asked, defensive. She’s only known me for seven years.

“Because for a very long time,” I said, sighing and shaking my head, “that was exactly what I needed. But not anymore.”


Creative Clutter

As a break from the doom and gloom of politics and my personal memories, I thought it might be fun to write a list of all the things on my writing desk this morning.

Many claim that clutter is the mark of a creative genius. They say Einstein was a slob. But my Aunt Rosalie used to say a cluttered space made for a cluttered mind, and my Aunt Rosalie remains to most creative person I’ve ever known. So, today I will be organizing my desk.

But first, as promised, here is my complete list of everything I saw piled up within eyeshot as I sat sipping my Cafe Bustelo this morning. Enjoy.

-my writing notebook
-my business journal
-my home finances journal
-a legal pad containing my agenda for the day

-5 Sanford uni-ball pens, black ink
-2 Sanford uni-ball pens, red ink
-2 Sanford uni-ball pens, green ink
-3 Zebra F-301 pens, black ink
-2 Zebra F-401 pens, black ink

-my Kindle Paperwhite

-Kaddish And Other Poems, 1958-1960 by Allen Ginsberg
-The Poem’s Heartbeat by Alfred Corn
-The Book of Pslams, KJV, Dover Thrift Edition
-Poetry and the Public by Joseph Harrington
-The Oxford Shakespeare
-Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
-Ulysses by James Joyce, Unabridged Audiobook on 40 CDs
-January/February edition of The American Poetry Review
-Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing by Karen Nelson-Field

-1 roll of packing tape
-1 pair of scissors
-2 box cutters
-1 phillips head screwdriver
-1 flathead screwdriver
-pair of players
-1 hammer

-the receipt from this morning’s trip to the market
-the recipe for this evening’s dinner, shrimp with broccoli in garlic sauce

-1 tube of Blistex medicated lip balm
-1 mala

Whew. Ok then. So, if there’s anything else you think I should have at hand while writing, please do leave a comment and let me know. Haha. In the meantime, I’m off to straighten up.

Thank you, so much, for reading along.


Traumatic Stressing, Part 3

for Sarah Kendzior 

Then my mentor summoned me to her office. She said she wanted to discuss my teaching.

I’d been a PhD student at the university for four years at that point, but this was my first semester teaching for them. She hired me, my mentor, when my former university passed me up a third time for a full-time promotion.

“And our decision had very little to do with teaching ability and popularity with the students,” my administrator said when she called on the phone.

I quit that afternoon with a simple email, after six years of teaching. Just like that. Done.

My mentor hired me almost immediately. She said she’d been wanting me to “shake things up” in her writing department for a very long time.

“This is where you belong, anyway,” she said when I called her, upset, asking for a teaching job. “This is your home.”

I was assigned the advanced writing classes—highly intelligent, jaded, almost cocky students. So sure of themselves and their prose writing, and even a few attempts at poems. I needed a way to rattle them, to earn their respect from the start. Fourteen weeks is not a lot of time to work with.

So I told them about my blog.

“I figure if I’m going to ask you to dig deep and write every day, and then allow everyone to read it,” I said as I scrawled my url on the board, “then I owe you the same vulnerability.”

I let them spend the rest of the first class reading my work.

They arrived to the second class with questions about sentence structure, punctuation, and transitions.

“I mean, how do you actually do transitions? I kinda still suck at that.”

They’d never actually known a real writer, they all said, let alone had one for a teacher!

From then on, the classes taught themselves. Students arrived early, eager to discuss their latest drafts. Those who were free afterwards stayed late to talk about what books they should be reading, or what books I should be reading, or how I could tweak one of my blog posts to make it so much more poetic. And there was a lot more talk about how to do transitions, of course.

It was around that time that a group of deans, grabbing some lunch in the student cafeteria, overheard my students raving to friends about my course, and about my blog. And I’m not sure how much time those stuffed shirts spent reading my work, but when they finished, they called my mentor and ordered her to put a stop to me.

So I arrived to what I thought would be a friendly lunch discussion with my friend and mentor about what I’d accomplished in just a few months, only to a find a stern-faced academic administrator who was in no mood for a discussion. I was to shut up and be lectured. And I was to remove my blog from the Internet or be immediately fired.

She said that since I’d been writing about my father’s war trauma, my child abuse survival, and my subsequent struggles with mental illness, there was a general agreement among the administration that I was presenting myself as a fraudulent mental health professional.

It was an accusation so silly that, given the stress of the moment, I lost my composure and started to laugh and shake my head. Then she added something, before I could respond, that instantly changed my mood about the university I’d been attending.

“And don’t give me anything about freedom of speech,” said this tenured director of a college writing program. “I’m from England. I still don’t get that stuff.”


With Love From Boston

A regular reader from Osaka, Japan, requested a third installment of my Traumatic Stressing series, and I promised to write one today, but my mood is too good for delving into painful memories today.

So, I decided to pen that tomorrow. I took an early trip to the market for everything I’ll need to cook a nice lemon garlic chicken this afternoon. Until then, I’ve been phone counseling a friend from Boston through her ongoing snow delirium.

“Jersey! What’s going on?” That’s her nickname for me, Jersey. And I usually just call her Boston.

“Why won’t it stop snowing here?” she continued, and then playfully whined in a little girl voice: “No more winter. Boo, winter. Meeehh!”

She’s been semi-trapped in her house for a few weeks now, snow and slush and ice keep piling up while everyone around her grows edgier and crankier with each falling snowflake.

“The local channels are interviewing counselors who specialize in cabin fever and road rage,” she exclamied when she called last night. And she has officially watched every movie she’s ever wanted to see in her life, I learned two night ago.

“No. More. Movies.” She replied in a trance-like voice when I suggested a documentary I’d just seen. “please, no.”

And then this morning she asked me to tell her an interesting story, something to keep her from completely cracking up. My stories have been a cornerstone of our ten years of talking.

“Once upon a time there was a woman named Boston,” I said, with a smile in my voice, “who really should have moved to New York City years ago.”

Her response to that: “Meh, fuck you, Jersey! Go, Red Sox! Hahaha!”


No Ordinary Winter

I find it particularly irritating when people compare the unusually severe winter in New Jersey this year to the severe cold that’s quite ordinary in other parts of the United States. To be clear, I never relocated to Michigan because of the winters. I never imagined the Michigan winters would move here.

But that’s only part of what this erratic new Gulf Stream has done for the U.S. east coast. For not only has the Michigan winter moved eastward, but the arctic air from the North Pole has dipped far south into the United States. Boston is getting slammed with a Canadian winter—several yards of snow, and piling—while the NJ/NYC area has been slammed with a dangerous, instant-frostbite cold. Scary stuff.

Still, everywhere I go there are Yahoos slinging snide comments about this just being winter, it’s supposed to be cold, toughen up, blah, blah. While others repeat hackneyed phrases like, so much for global warming, huh? They all act like they’re the first one to utter such brilliance, too. Extremely annoying.

And so, as the air keeps getting colder and drier than a Northeastern physiology can handle, everyone is get weirdly, chronically sick. In the meantime, an army of fools go on bashing climate studies in the name of a god, delivering their screeds by way of the Internet, social media, and top-of-the-line laptop computers with 4G and wireless wifi connections. Word. Fuck science. I hear ya.


Traumatic Stressing, Part 2

Then came planes crashing into buildings that were never supposed to crumble. And when they did crumble, the collapse sent nauseating black smoke drifting out to the ocean for weeks. New nightmares. New tension. And the planes always seem to be flying too low now.

That followed by a car crash in my late 30s. Some kid ran a stop sign—17 years old, new driver—and casually drove in front of my car. We collided at the exact moment I slammed on my brake.

Then there was knee surgery, a painful limp, permanent neck and back aches, an eruption of nervous ticks, and a new terror of driving that bordered on agoraphobia.

So, no more solitary car rides to Boston. No more road trips to California, just terror and cold sweats and heart palpitations at the thought of a drive to the grocery store up the road.

His insurance company determined, however, that this new fear of driving was the result of old abuse my father doled out when I was a child, and not the recent car crash their client caused. And then my new lawyer said their attorneys intended to use excerpts from my blog to prove that bullshit theory in court.