What Have You Been Up To? #njpoet

I’ve been having panic attacks all day and my stomach has been in a knot for a week. Stress, the doctor said. So, an old friend stopped by this afternoon with a sack full of turkey subs, a pre-planned lunch date to interrupt the workaholic poet.

“Holy shit! How are you? Haven’t seen you in over a year! What have you been up to?” It was that kind of afternoon.

I abridged last year’s news: increased blog traffic that forced us to purchase hosting space on a private server, 12,000 followers and growing on Twitter, a professor gig that finally pulled us out of our eviction spiral, an appearance on a radio show, and a virtual tribe of new friends and colleagues—poets, professors, journalists, writers.

“One of them,” I told my friend, “calls me a Public Intellectual.” To which she burst out giggling an I’m-so-happy-for-you laugh.

“A far cry from the bodybuilder you were back in high school!” And her comment launched us into a long conversation about my gym rat days, obsessively training since puberty so I’d be strong enough to defend my family when my crazy father returned. And I was convinced he would return, for sure, to kill us all finally. Trauma.

“But I burned out when I was twenty-two,” I told her, “My body just couldn’t take anymore. Chronic fatigue syndrome. I think I was squatting 750 at the time, or some such madness. I wouldn’t go on family vacations unless there was a weight room in the hotel. It was a real obsession.”

Then my friend lightened the mood, pulled me back to the present, to the list of good news I had just rattled off. “But look at you now!” She smiled wide. “Public Intellectual. That’s nuts! You must feel so validated.”

And I do.

“Oh, I do!” I said, holding out my hand to show her the obvious tremor, the anxiety and panic quaking through each finger, my hand dancing involuntarily—post-trauma of the aforementioned eviction spiral.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply grateful for all my good fortune,” I continued, trying to hold my hand steady but only watching it quiver more. “Now, I just wish I could stop shaking all the time.”



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