I wrote much of “Can I Be Candid?” in a fever dream in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I turned to poetry when the lights were out and I needed a lantern to guide me back home.
I wrote from grief. I wrote from loss. I wrote from curiosity. I wrote from love. I wrote from wonder in order to find my way back to a place filled with illumination and healing.
When I wrote these poems, some of them filled napkins written quickly when I ran out of paper. I wandered through the corridors of my psyche in order to understand what it means to be candid — to hold space for another in the earnest desire to be vulnerable.
What does it mean to illuminate our shadows and truly witness the aspects of ourselves we fear? What does it mean to raise a lantern at a supposed beast and realize he is the most charming individual you’ve ever seen?
Along the way, I found solace in the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which carried me to this place of understanding I like to call home.
Now, one year later, I think I finally understand why I asked the question which initiated this chapbook. In the quest for understanding imposed in this question, I discovered connection within myself through illuminating my shadows.
Thank you for reading my words and sharing them. “Can I Be Candid?” the post-anniversary edition with seven new poems from the archive will be out October 28th. ✨
Lately, I’ve been contemplating the intention behind our words and how we cultivate and utilize them. To what end are we conscious in conversation is often determined by what the purpose behind our words is. In my personal life, I’ve found that too often people use words from an unconscious state of mind. This is when words become flimsy and slip away, or conversely, become trained as arrows to pierce a heart — to denigrate, to mock, to shame, to humiliate, to vindicate — all in the name of grasping for a sense of power around something, which will always remain malleable. Words will always hold true on the lips of the person who speaks them.
In every form of written expression, words remain powerful based upon the person’s intent to use them. With this in mind, it is important to recognize how the expressed word can be potent upon recitation and recollection. In a thoughtful discussion, I believe words should be used as tools for discovery and understanding.
When a person evades in their words or points their words toward another with the intention of callousness or cruelty, this dissonance will ring true and will be felt intuitively by all who come into contact with this expression. Such is the constant nature of language: it always reveals and discloses. In this way, the physical container of the word embodies truth in the voices of those who speak aloud and express themselves.
At the end of the day, all attempts to evade or invade expression — to divert or diminish — is a distancing, which removes a communicator away from themselves (and others). A listener who is in presence with an absent speaker will always sense it. Accordingly, to view discussion as argument is to view conflict as an attack. To view diplomacy as weakness is to view the nature of service as childish or without use.
To view language as translation is to understand that with each word one speaks, one only scratches at the surface of what they are seeking.
I’m getting old, I tell myself as I peel back the wrapper of a Russel Stover s’mores in the grocery store. It’s funny how just yesterday I was on a walk and could smell roasting marshmallows and immediately the thought came to my mind of how much I wanted s’mores for myself.
Then, today, I’m walking through not one, but two stores, and I spy not one, but two packages of pre-packaged s’mores. Finally, I concede. At Albertson’s, I shell over the two bucks to buy the mini, convenient package for myself. I step outside, take off my mask, and take a bite of the sweet treat.
The first taste feels like a glimmer – a return to my childhood, of roasting marshmallows on the 4th of July, but once the taste envelopes my mouth, I recall it doesn’t taste as sweet as my memories and it tastes ironically just too sweet for my palate now.
I’ve been working with my inner child lately in between establishing a career; to me, these two contrasting endeavors fight for my attention at times. One part of me wants to take extremely long walks — to go farther than I’ve ever journeyed before, while the other part of me turns in yet another job application. A friend mentions the word growing pains to me and I think growing pains. Growing pains.
Is that what it means to grow up?
I’m trying to find the space to remember a job isn’t your identity as much as Americans continue to ask, “What do you do for a living?” I’m trying to grow through these pains, which I’ve found to be of me and not me.
So, today, I bought a sugary treat from the store. And when I got home, I decided to write this post, not sure why. It’s a bit different in style for me, but I’ve decided growing pains can be vulnerable, candid, hard, and soft at the same time.
Some days, it can be heavy, in unwinding an ever-constant process of healing.
Some days, it can be as light and simple as picking up s’mores from the store.
Like many other writers, I hold a fascination for the topic of inspiration, especially when it comes to developing characters. Some writers believe their character is a transient being who speaks to them and urges them to move to an entirely different state in order to record their story properly, while other writers believe that their characters belong entirely to them — that they are creations of their own will and will do whatever they are told to do. So, where do I stand on this topic?
Well, I certainly don’t believe a character is beholden to our pen as much as we’d like to believe they are. For me, a character arrives and makes their presence known in a number of ways. I’ve had characters arrive in dreams, in unconscious states, and in flashes of images. Then again, I’ve had characters arrive through voices and snippets of overheard dialogue. Usually, in my case, that’s where the work of discovering a character begins.
I begin to question the character and try to understand their motivation. Who are they? Why would they say this? What are they doing? What are their desires? And perhaps more importantly, why do they desire what they desire?
Each character, more often than not, arrives on my doorstep or in my consciousness in a different way, but the way I treat the character remains the same: with curiosity, compassion, and respect. I want to understand what they have to say without judgment. I want to know why they have chosen this moment to arrive and what it means to the story I am currently writing.
In this way, I am, as you might have guessed, a character-driven writer. I can’t begin a story without a character. In my stories, I develop the plot through the character’s motivations, desires, fears, and dreams. It is only through keeping an open ear that I am able to even begin writing a story. So, if I don’t know who the character I’m writing about is, well then I don’t have a story to write.
I need to walk in the character’s shoes. I need to truly understand them in order to even really begin.
So, what about you? How do you write your stories?
Do you believe characters run away with you or are they entirely under the control of your pen?
One of the questions many writers, artists, and creators alike contemplate is where does inspiration come from. Is it within our blood? Do we stick a needle in our veins and funnel it all out when we create something new, whether it be a painting, a poem, or a story? Or, on the contrary, do we journey far to discover our inspiration in the ether? In this way, do we leave ourselves and go somewhere else in order to bring back some wisdom?
I believe there is no either-or for where inspiration comes from. I think we create from a communal source, shared between us all, but as the words flow, we channel our unique expression from this wellspring. Inspiration and creation occur from within and without, meaning that it funnels through our instruments and tools, but it also is accessed from the universal source we all share.
In this manner, I believe anyone can access the wisdom within this collective consciousness; all one needs to do is tap into that infinite stream of intelligence and inspiration. Then, as creators, we are tasked with the responsibility (and pleasure) of bringing something beautiful into this world.
I think at the end of the day our lives are rife with moments and circumstances, which push us into a place of creation. To imagine better possibilities. To dream less contemptible dreams. To take our hopes and channel them into something immediately accessible for all.
So, I suppose in this way, we all are tasked with the responsibility to create through the contrast we experience in order to experience brilliant new realities. An artist alone cannot herald this vision into the world alone. Rather, it is through each collective creation we make that we birth our own realities moment by moment.
Given this, my final question is this: where do you find inspiration and how do you cultivate it?
One of my favorite novels is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This morning, I was thinking about one, among many reasons, why I love this novel. My favorite scene in this novel is when Mary, Colin, and Dickon walk into the blooming garden for the first time — their eyes awash in a rainbow of colors they cultivated together. Their secret garden, which at first appeared to be abandoned, dead, and lost now was fully immersed in brilliant bloom.
I suppose this scene in the novel brings me to tears every time because of its visible metaphor to life. For one, Mary sees herself in the secret garden as she herself is an orphan and for the longest time has felt unwanted and abandoned. Mary has been called sullen and contrary and life has provided sufficient evidence to her time and time again that she is unlovable, sour, and sullen, so she accordingly has believed it. And yet, this beautiful garden in bloom has provided Mary with proof that the stories she has told herself might not actually be the truth.
There’s intrinsic magic within this awakening to the beauty all the characters experience about the world around them. Colin, a sickly boy, opens his eyes to the garden and begins to believe in the magic of words and beautiful places. Together, the characters cultivate their magic through the lens of their secret garden and their friendship. Colin realizes his strength. Mary realizes she has always been loved and finds family in both Colin, Dickon, and Mr. Craven, Colin’s father. Through the imagination of these children, they are able to not only open their hearts to the beautiful possibilities of this world, but they are able to open the adults’ hearts around them, too.
In the end, the secret garden remains open in a perpetual bloom so all who come across the garden might witness the beauty of the children’s discovery, too.
I’ve always considered myself a big advocate for the power of the present moment and its seeming permanence despite its temporary, quickly passing nature. When I was younger, I, unlike many others my age, wanted moments to linger forever — my viewpoint perhaps was more nostalgic and romantic compared to my peers. I didn’t want to grow up or grow old; I wanted things to remain, more or less, the same. In this manner, I never could grasp the reasons why people and situations enter your life for seasons, only to depart and move forward on their own respective journeys.
Now, I’m beginning to understand the significance of the moment before me and the moments, which passed over the past few days and past few years. Every moment brought me to this day — to this now moment to unfold from. At the end of the day, I think that means the people who entered my life, if only for a season, could not stay forever because they were never meant to.
There is no tragedy in this passing. Rather, there is an intrinsic beauty in this greeting.
In more ways than one, this notion of goodbyes and hellos inspired much of the writing in my poetry collection Goodbye (Hello). I believe there is a circular nature in our lives and in our goodbyes and hellos. With every passing emerges a new arrival. Death begets life. The universe exists in a place consisting of opposites. Pain and beauty. Love and fear. Bloom and hibernation.
The more I lean into each season, the more I begin to understand how everything intrinsically is tied into this present moment.
And I suppose, in this way, every moment lasts forever.
*There may be some potential spoilers revealed in this book review. Read at your own discretion.*
In Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, the mythic quality of the muse comes to play. As a reader, one goes into this novel, understanding completely that this story couldn’t be farther from the actual truth of the inspiration behind Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting. Little is actually known about the inspiration, which led to the timely creation of Girl With a Pearl Earring. Even so, we as readers, buy into the myth because we want to. We want to understand the muse behind this renowned painting. We want to see her story unfold on the page.
Perhaps, above all else, this is one of the main reasons why Chevalier’s novel is successful. From the beginning of the story, the novel is painted not through Vermeer’s eyes, but rather through the eyes of our protagonist Griet — a maid from a modest family who is well aware of the restrictions, which singlehandedly mark her future and her stature in life. In this manner, Griet is wise beyond her years even as she is naïve and hopeful for a better future for herself where her livelihood will not be connected to marrying the butcher’s son.
For me, the most interesting scenes were the ones in which the reader began to see how Vermeer viewed the world through his painter’s eyes. Nevertheless, these scenes were a precious gem, which appeared few and far between compared to the other events at play within Griet’s life.
Suffice it to say, there still is something magical about this novel, which I’m having a hard time putting my finger on directly. I think it must be located within what we never had the chance to see directly unfold across the span of these pages; it must be isolated within the liminal space this novel consciously creates.
For one: the curiosity about the seemingly romantic relationship between Vermeer and Griet comes to mind. Although nothing ever directly came to pass between them, I still wonder about the few scenes they shared while Vermeer painted Griet with the pearl earring. Like Griet, I am saddened to hear about Vermeer’s death by the end of the novel. In more ways than one, I still occupy the same space Griet did as both the muse and the heroine who was curious about the power of this whimsical painter but simultaneously was still like any other woman for her time — a woman who, in time, would choose to give away the pearl earrings gifted to her in the name of prudence and some extra coins she will never come to use.
I’m not sure what this means at the end of the day, but I think there’s something incredibly lovely and important about all this. I believe there is a value in the intersections of Griet’s identity and how, if for but a moment, we as the reader have the chance to sit beside both the muse and the heroine.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the spaces of pause and recollection in our journeys — the moments when nothing actually appears to be occurring but is still bubbling and collecting from underneath the surface. The last few months have contained many of these moments for me where in one moment I feel pressed to make a choice and come to a decision about what I’m doing, and perhaps in this way, deciding who I am.
Along this journey, I’ve realized a lot more about who I am and what I’m passionate about — more or less what are the indicators of a life well-lived — one filled with passion, authenticity, integrity, creativity, and above all else unconditional love. After connecting with an old friend and inspiring another to pursue her dreams, I’ve come to the conclusion that I find joy in the smallest of places — in the melting hum of poetry, in open spaces of conversation, in long walks out in nature, in mentoring and teaching others how to take their words and put them onto the page. I’ve found peace in the smallest of things and the smallest of places — in knowing that wherever I’m going or whatever I’ve produced is not my greatest contribution to society, but rather, the meaningful memories and friendships and kind words I have shared with others; all of these things, for lack of a better word, are what I’m proud to cultivate within this place and within my life.
I believe there is power in the in-between for it is the place where all our wildest dreams and doubts and fears find a place to reside, but I have found solace here. So, I’ve decided I will continue to follow everything which lights me up, inspires me, and even terrifies me a little bit — to learn and grow through the contrast I experience and take these messages from the in-between with me every step of the way.
“Men, what exactly is the nature of Enlightenment?” he asks.
I clench my fist. I’ve heard this conversation countless times before.
The stories of men will always be the same.
I never imagined I’d create a custom candle, let alone put out and publish this book or any of my books if I’m being honest. Months ago, if you asked me about any of this, I’d consider it ludicrous.
I think for the longest time I convinced myself I wasn’t worthy of the words put to the page — that they held no weight or meaning. Now, three books later, I think I’ve realized how we all underestimate our abilities as dreamers and creators of our own realities.
We convince ourselves we aren’t good enough or strong enough or creative enough because we’re secretly afraid of our luster and shine. I think in the most becoming way we’re secretly terrified of our most earnest desires for our lives.
So, in the nature of these stories, I’d like to offer an alternative — a manifest desire formed beyond this candle’s glow.
What if we shine?
What if we write new stories and greet them at the door?
I think I’ve always defined myself as an artist above all else and expression has been the one umbrella, which defines all the work I do.
When I decided to make a custom candle and collaborate with @wildblackthorn to bring all these ideas into reality, I remembered thinking to myself how can I add another layer to the stories I’ve created, how can I contemplate the scents I’ve layered in naturally as a writer and bring another touch of the ephemeral and physical for you as you read The Council of Amara.
As an artist, one of my favorite endeavors is to bring all ideas from the ether and into the physical. It’s my favorite part of what I do and it’s why I love the muse.
I wanted to capture the unseen in this candle. I wanted to capture the scent of enlightenment in this candle — of coffee shops where intellectuals wrote, of horses on a dirty, dusty bustling road, of a kind offering being made to a young, wide-eyed girl: a pair of old ladies gloves.
I wanted to trace the scent between intellectual and find the rough, heady undertones, which marked it all.
Perhaps, above all else, I wanted to follow Isla’s footsteps in the place between it all as she strived to follow the scents she had grown up with and find her way home to the nature of enlightenment as she understood it to be.
Mark your calendars. The Nature of Enlightenment will be yours on January 14th.
In less than a week, my book will be in your hands. In one way or another, I’ve been working on these stories for at least three years now, but I’d like to say in theory I’ve been working on them since the day I was born. For me, these characters came in traces, captured in recollection.
Some of these stories began in a dream — in a woman’s voice; in a woman I wrote to understand. During my senior year of college, I wrote and defended a creative honors thesis, which included the linked short stories you will have in your hands soon. I spoke about the women I’ve always desired to see on the page — strong, flawed, and feminine heroines who didn’t always get everything right, but still persevered despite their limitations. I sought to seek strength in vulnerability and in the type of traits often characterized as weak. After years of witnessing hyper-masculinized and over-sexualized women on my television, I became fed up with the narrative currently surrounding strong female characters.
So, I wrote these stories. I wrote about women who weren’t necessarily strong in the masculine sense of the word, but were strong nevertheless in all their femininity. I never imagined I’d publish these stories once I completed my thesis, but something in me told me to release them like paper airplanes onto the world.
You won’t have to wait that much longer until these stories are yours, too.
I hope in this shared, liminal space you find exactly what you need to in the words I’ve written to this page.
The Council of Amara will be yours on December 31st.
Since September, I’ve been performing slam poetry at a small, quaint place called The Film Bar. It’s exactly what you might imagine it to be — a film bar: a place, which shows classic indie film and has a fully-operating bar serving treats and your favorite drink, too.
For the longest time, I’ve written poetry in a place of solace and kept my words for the latter half to myself. Granted, I have published two books of poetry, but this experience of speaking my poetry aloud to a live audience feels different to me. Once a month, I go to the Ghost Poetry Show, sometimes to speak and other times to listen — to absorb, to contemplate the words others have pressed to the page and resuscitated upon speaking them aloud.
It’s an intimate, personal experience to say the least. I don’t think any other form of art would quite allow or even grant the level of intimacy allowed within poetry. I never knew I desired a sense of community. I suppose I believed in the myth for the longest time that most artists write alone in the dark, but I guess that’s the magic of it all.
In community, we begin and find our words alone before we share them as we are cast in spotlight. Last Thursday, I performed at the Ghost Poetry Show and I won third place. I think at the end of the day the notoriety or awards don’t really matter as much as they are greatly appreciated.
I’ve always preferred the words after when a poet or an audience member comes up to me and says, “Your words really spoke to me.”
Because more or less, they are saying your words found me when I needed them. I found a home in them and they found a home in me.
And I think that’s the greatest reward at the end of the day.
Nobody told me how to use my voice. Nobody told me how to write my poetry although they most certainly tried to.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it’s difficult to emerge sometimes from challenging situations with a heart full of gratitude and softer eyes for having undergone such tribulations.
But that’s what I strive to do every day — to emerge sweet despite the contrast, which has informed my pathway and candid resolution.
I think that every word I share on this blog and in my life has been marked by the promise to soften to these words and moments in this liminal space.
Because the more I live, the more I’m beginning to realize that those who’ve hurt me didn’t realize they could have realized better in their lives. The way I see it, every emotion at one point existed as suppressed sadness. When I sit with that cardinal fact, I’m left speechless in all honesty.
So, I present you with this oath, this sentimental promise: I will continue writing candidly in this space because every emotion, which has passed before me was once repressed by him and her and all those who did not believe in me because they could not realize better for themselves.
I have a confession: I’m a fountain pen user. And by fountain pen user, I mean fountain pen snob.
I call myself this because I only use fountain pens. Before I continue, I want to take you back to August 7th of 2020 as this was an important date for me. For starters, it was my 25th birthday (go me)! And on this very special day, I received my very first fountain pen from my brother for my present.
The pen, you ask? A Pilot Metropolitan in a purple color (as purple has always been my favorite color). I started off with ink cartridges and then slowly transitioned into using actual bottles of ink, which I purchased with time (more on this later).
I want to take this time to introduce another aspect of myself you may not know already. Fountain pens have been pivotal in my process of writing and in my enjoyment of it, too.
When I’m writing with a fountain pen, the process feels smooth and alchemical. There’s a close precision in the transference of ideas to the page. I wrote my first collection of poetry all on paper in my journal with my Pilot Metropolitan so it holds a special place in my heart and soul.
When I utilize my pen, I’m always in a certain mood and I choose the appropriate color to capture my mood accordingly. I’ll probably eventually write another post about the types of ink I use, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll give a brief description here.
Right now, my favorite color is Noodler’s “The Purple Heart,” which is a dark bluish-purple ink with the date of my birthday on its label (another synchronicity)! The story behind this color is related directly to the medal awarded to soldiers, which just happens to be called the Purple Heart. It’s a quick-drying ink, which is a key necessity for me as I’m a lefty and am known to smear practically everything in sight.
All jokes aside, the fountain pen and the inks I have are meaningful to me because they allow me to tap into the words I’ve always possessed within me.
They are my tools — my instruments — to make meaning in this world and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
I’ve linked the Pilot Metropolitan Purple Fountain Pen and Waterman’s Tender Purple Ink (my first fountain pen ink) below since the one I mentioned in my blog isn’t available currently. If you purchase any of these products, I receive a small commission from Amazon.
The Pilot Metropolitan is a great starter pen for those interested in trying out fountain pens as its relatively inexpensive and comes with an ink cartridge already. If you’re not comfortable with using inks right away, try an ink cartridge until you get accustomed to the process of writing with a fountain pen.
I’ve been waiting to write this post for a while because I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to say, but I figured I’d take a stab in the dark, or as I’d prefer to view it, lean in closer to reveal the sight of Cupid with a single lantern.
See, I think it’s one thing to say you believe in miracles and then another entirely to say you’ve co-created a miracle.
Growing up, I used to hear that miracles occurred once in a blue moon — a distant reminder speaking to the mundane origins of our world and our respective lives within it.
Then, I grew up. Even so, as I progressed in my spiritual journey, I still believed in miracles — in synchronicities orchestrated by the divine: a force greater than me, and in some small way related to me.
But I had never experienced the kiss of a miracle before. I charted doves and prayed to candles — to my ancestors, to God and even to some form of a higher power. My tears formed a heart — an answered clarifier to all my questions I imposed, but still, I hadn’t seen it.
I hadn’t seen the elusive miracle latent on my cinema screen.
Until a few weeks ago.
Months ago, I knew I would be going to New York with my best friend. I hadn’t made any plans, had no idea why, but then through a series of shocking, sentimental, challenging events, I came to understand just how miracles come to be.
Because I believe we orchestrate miracles in our lives when we ask for them and when we listen to the signs of the divine. I believe we are of the divine and I believe there is nothing too large, which can compare to the magnitude of our souls.
So, I’ve written this post because I’d like to understand it. I’d like to trace the outlines of a miracle and see what it means once realized in my life.
And I think just this time I’ve traced Cupid’s wings as he departs Psyche’s reaching arms.
I’ve been thinking about the impermanence of art as marked by its materials, whether it be composed on paper, canvas, or any medium in between.
Sappho, a famous Ancient Greek poet, left us with many fragments as the papyrus used to contain her poetry was torn or damaged in several places, leaving up with pieces of stanzas, forever marking how we as readers interact with her art.
Then, several thousands of years later, we come into contact with writers like Zelda Fitzgerald — a talented writer and a painter, her wide-expansing talents unrecognized even to this day. She was overshadowed by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald and her first and last novel Save Me The Waltz fell through the cracks, becoming out-of-print as the years passed. There’s so much more to cover on her history, but that’s enough for another post entirely.
What I mean to say is this: most of Zelda’s paintings were destroyed by her jealous sister and others were lost with the advent of time.
I guess I’ve been considering how time fragments memories and art as the materials we utilize to create and transcribe our art are so easily damaged, and then in other cases, artists sometimes ask others to destroy their art for them.
In the case of ignorance, millions of records were damaged in the 2008 Universal Studios Fire. (See post on Art Corner page for more info.)
Yet again, in the case of a decisive will, sometimes writers ask someone they love to burn their words for them so the public will never be able to see them again. Emily Dickinson asked her sister Lavinia to burn a chest full of her fascicles and I still think about how Lavinia did what she asked her to do and burned all those poems to this day.
I still think about what it means to lose art. And I still wonder at the distance between recovery and loss in relation to art. Because those paintings and poems are gone to us now and we will never be able to recover them; they smoldered and all we are left with now is these fragments of memory.
Will you burn this for me?
Some words on a crumbling page.
And a memory of loss sometimes captured on the page or in the paint.
I don’t think I understand the connection between recovery and loss yet.
I think sometimes about how everything I’ve ever lost has returned to me in one way or another and if it was never recovered then it simply wasn’t meant for me.
I lost my gold necklace with my great grandmother’s Hebrew name last night. I scoured my bedroom, went back to the park, searched by the tree I touched, but still there was nothing to be recovered.
I was certain I would find my necklace beside that white stained tree and it would be gleaming golden — victorious, I would be.
But in that moment I realized something. I have a tendency to linger, to hold onto items and memories, which bring me comfort even when they may no longer be necessary for me on my journey.
I’ve come to adopt a life motto, which is extremely simple and it is just this: what is meant for me will never leave me. It will always return to me.
I’ve failed to mention the amount of times I’ve misplaced this necklace, only for it to return to me in the most random place after a realization and a lesson had been learned in divine timing.
So, I think just this time I’ll let it go.
I think just this time I’ll leave this golden memory with the comfort that everything — every person, place, and experience, which is meant for me will never leave me and will return to my door when I’m ready to receive them.
I think it’s about time we’ve re-navigated the line between the critic and the artist. It’s commonplace today for artists to bemoan the critic and to complain of their lofty ideals and petty taste. In movie after movie, the protagonist often shakes their fist at the nefarious critic, accusing them of derailing their big break — their one crucial moment in the sun.
In Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Dermot Hoggins, a man intimately familiar with the thug life, publishes a novel inspired by his experiences called Knuckle Sandwich. At an awards event, Hoggins comes in contact with Felix Finch: a classically renowned critic who pens Mr. Hoggins a harsh critique. Hoggins, then, in a moment of blinding fury picks up Felix and throws him off the side of a high-story building. From this moment forward, Hoggins is revered as the man who “showed it” to the hideous critic and literally put an end to the bane of all artists everywhere.
This is a prime example of the endless war as seen in film and literature against the critic. Here is the one person who derails the success of all artists, writers, and poets. They proclaim, “Not good enough. This is trash.” They are displayed as snobbish drinkers of champagne with long blue scarfs and pointed smirks and blue eyes.
In the Critic as Artist, Oscar Wilde challenges the traditional relationship witnessed between the artist and the critic. During this dialogue, one of the characters, Ernest, proclaims, “Each new school, as it appears, cries out against criticism, but it is to the critical faculty in man that it owes its origin” (Wilde 230). Here, Wilde lays the framework for cultivating a new interpretation of the critic. Through his main character Ernest, Wilde presents the critic as a person central in the creation and later cultivation of the art and the artist as the art and artist appear to be inextricably women to one another; their fate and livelihood is simultaneous in this regard. In this manner, Wilde is cognizant of the nature of the critic and how their image and identity will always be bemoaned and critiqued. Even so, Wilde lays a case for the critic as seen throughout this dialogue.
As Ernest and Gilbert, the two main characters of the dialogue continue their discussion, they both arrive at a new understanding and interpretation of the critic. Dare I say it, they consider the artist as critic, or if you prefer, the critic as artist. (I’ll explain more later). During a pivotal scene, Ernest remarks, “The highest Criticism, then, is more creative than creation, and the primary aim of the critic is to see the object as in itself it really is not; that is your theory, I believe” (Wilde 240). This moment is crucial as Ernest argues here that the role of the critic occupies a critical, creative liminal space. In this manner, there is a kind of creativity, which weighs on the critic as they observe and account for the open space of the artist and their subsequent art. The artist cannot see their work’s shortcomings or even their unconscious contribution to the space of art, but the critic can. A thoughtful critic can. A discerning critic can. A compassionate, fair critic can.
I would argue that Wilde considers the role of the critic to be paramount to the creation, cultivation, and dissemination of art, for it is the critic who uncovers new beauty and “fills the [art] with wonder . . . [in a place] in which the artist may have left void, or not understood, or understood incompletely” (Wilde 240). This, then, solidifies the critic as crucial to the welfare of both the artist and the art. The critic celebrates the art, challenges the art, and disseminates and cultivates dialogue and discussion about the art. Moreover, if done well, the relationship between the critic and artist ought to be symbiotic and not parasitic.
As “the critic will [always] be an interpreter” it is necessary for the artist and critic to make peace with each other and set about forging a healthy, collaborative and cooperative relationship with each other, holding respect for the work each role serves in its place (Wilde 245). There is an air of respect Wilde leaves the reader with when in contemplation of the critic. In the text, through the mouth of Gilbert, he declares, “[The critic] may seek rather to deepen [art’s] mystery, to raise round it, and round its maker, that mist of wonder which is dear to both gods and worshippers alike” (Wilde 244).
In a strange roundabout way, I return to contemplating if the critic and artist will ever find peace within their relationship — if the artist will ever feel strong enough in their ego to accept the critic’s criticisms and if the critic will look upon their role of judgment with a kind of collaborative compassion and wonder. I wonder if the space in which the critic and the artist lie will ever be a peaceful place.
I suppose, then, I’ll leave you with this final point of inquiry.
Is not the work of the artist the same as the work of the critic?
I’ve been thinking about a statement Mary Lennox declares in The Secret Garden. She says to Colin that if he “make[s] them open the door and take [him] in like that it will never be a secret garden again” (Burnett 130).
In the very beginning of The Secret Garden, Mary keeps the abandoned garden she has recovered a secret primarily because she wants to revive it and she witnesses and recalls herself in this piece of earth.
By tending to the garden, she inadvertently tends to herself and becomes less sullen, gloomy, and alone. Mary finds solace in the bit of earth she cares for as she finds solace and a kind of love in herself.
But, I keep returning to this point of the magic in a secret garden or any secret really. I believe Mary didn’t want to share the secret of the garden because she was afraid she would lose herself in being tender and revealing an undisclosed aspect of herself to another — a familiar, a stranger: her first cousin.
When I think of my own life, I often think of the secret smiles I’ve kept to myself — those memories I’ve shared with only another — a memory no one else will be able to recover.
I think that’s what Mary spoke about at the end of the day.
There’s magic in a secret garden. There’s magic in the parts of ourselves we thought were abandoned but then tended to and watched bloom.
And there’s magic in this ancestry and me and you.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating the role nostalgia plays in our lives as we journey forward through all our challenges and respective triumphs.
I honestly believe nostalgia comes from a desire for safety and comfort. Every time I’ve felt nostalgic in the past, I’ve noticed how the feelings I experience aren’t necessarily a desire to return to the exact time I’m reflecting back on. Rather, these scattered feelings bring me to a place of deep and earnest longing for a time when everything felt certain, warm, and comforting.
Now, in light of the pandemic and the fight/flight responses our brains all are naturally working through, it only makes sense to indulge in nostalgia for a time before the pandemic and before masks and this madness.
Every day, it appears that another area of conflict appears on our door side. Another day equals another conflict —another concern, another worry, which appears insurmountable to even us.
Given this, I’ve been reflecting on why we are nostalgic over the course of our lives. What purpose does nostalgia serve? And why do we linger in past memories through tinted rose-colored glasses?
In the end, I consider nostalgia to be laced in a moment, which never truly existed — a moment when everything appeared to be certain, brilliant, and fulfilling.
And so we return to our childhoods. We return to the playgrounds of our youth. We return to the first kisses, which caught us head over heels. And lastly, we return to the moment before everything unfolded before us.
Because even now we desire to trace the elusive “what-if’s.”
What if I had stayed in his/her/or their arms?
What if I lingered another day in a moment of sustained comfort?
I highly doubt nostalgia will ever leave us, but we might reconsider how we utilize this emotion as we face every challenge in our lives.
The weight of your memories can only embrace you for a little while before you let that furniture go.
Ilyssa Goldsmith, Goodbye (Hello), ”Beloved”
I’ve been thinking about how all our memories occupy a space in our minds and in our hearts, composing a sizable print of who we are — an endless cycling of people who loved us, who harmed us, who said beautiful and monstrous words, too.
What I mean by this is that we are the amalgamation of all the people who have come into our lives, for their imprint will stay with us to our very dying day. And, perhaps, this might sound dark or ill-brooding when pressed to the page, but I honestly don’t believe it to be that way.
See, I was discussing the weight of our memories with my friend Sierra yesterday and was caught by this idea. Oftentimes, we see healing pressed as a linear journey set with distinct trail markers. We are told to leave the past behind and to forget the weight of our memories at each passing juncture, but I don’t believe we should forget our memories.
I don’t think we should forget the memories of those who said one kind word to us in one moment and another cruel word to us in the next moment. This, in the end, is the contrast, which comprises every moment of our lives. As human beings, I believe we are meant to sit with the moments, which made us feel good — the tender ones of first kisses, of late nights and early twilight conversations.
And yet, we are meant to sit with the weight of specters, too: of harsh words meant to sting, of the disappointments, which have marked us in the past by those we cherished as well.
Here lies the very principle of our lives. It is an act of proper unfoldment. It is to say I may not linger with you or keep you in my life, but I will remember you.
I will honor you.
I will cherish you because you have made me who I am today.
And to live in bitterness or to scorn the space of all these memories would be to say I might as well not have lived to this very day.
Today, I’ve felt such a warm current of love flowing through me. It feels like a kiss from my ancestors, reminding me they’re here with me now, despite the metaphorical and physical distance between us.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t believe energy ever really dies. I believe it continues onward and upward despite the transition some souls make from the corporeal form into the beyond.
Suffice it to say, this transition can be difficult for us to witness, especially when it comes to losing the ones we love in this life.
But, despite this, I’ve come to appreciate the energetic transience, which marks the constellation of memories and love, which exist to me even now.
I love the stories passed down to me of my grandfather, a dapper dresser and dancer. I love the stories of my grandmother, a compassionate elementary school teacher. And perhaps above all else, I love the silly memories, too, of my grandpa on my mom’s side who loved his whipped cream on his hot cocoa and sometimes drank it like a child.
I think I’ll always keep these memories with me.
And it’s on days like today that I’m grateful to be a purveyor of all these beautiful memories.
I’m grateful to keep them written on this page and in the silent, speaking corners of my heart and soul.
In Healed Ford Fusion: Desiccated Moth By Ilyssa Goldsmith Recovered moth — desiccated in healed Ford Fusion (K-95 mask on) For the man who walked over to Albertson’s to pick up his lunch I contemplated your meal of choice and its commonality Now a black mask (curtain) and memorial candle lies on your service desk Service (were you in service to others when they serviced you) In death Today, they return to their work (on bodies of cars in need of reorientation to this world) My Dad’s car could not breathe cold air (onto me) And now you cannot breathe (and be reserviced in this life) I contemplate the mechanics of this contemplation — of bodies and bodies and bodies (and cars and cars and cars) And now you I don’t know you I don’t know you But I knew you And I know you And now a black mask lies over your desk (in memorial) A permanent mark for the man who did not wear a mask (who was kind) Who made cars breathe until he could no longer breathe And now you I don’t know you But I know you I say as I recover a desiccated moth in my Dad’s car
I’ve been contemplating this tarot reading I did for a quick glance at the year ahead and how when I arrived at these cards they made no sense. In December, I was confused in many regards. The future appeared uncertain and insurmountable to me. I felt like it had power over me — a restless wind and I was a Paper sail to be spun about by its whims. I stared at these cards, asking what meaning they had to impart to me. Who was I? And what power did these cards have over me in my life and endeavor for meaning? Months later, I arrived at a new understanding of meaning for myself and my soul as we arrive at the conclusion of 2021 in nearly three months. Crazy to believe, isn’t it? Every decision I made has led me to this moment of unfolding. This moment of courage. This moment of creativity — to say, ah yes, here I am. This time, I can be Candid with you.
Goodbye (Hello) — my first full-length poetry collection is now officially out in hardcover as well.
For those readers who would love to add more leaves to their collection or enjoy the crisp feeling of a hard paperback, in their collection, consider the feeling of adding this lofty leaf to your collection.
I, personally, love the feeling of a hardcover book in my collection. There’s a feeling of antiquity about it as I keep a copy of my favorite books in hardcover. Plus, let’s be real here, when I really desire a back (back in the old days when I was a child; imagine that!?) I used to purchase books I truly desired in hardcover first because consumerism forced me to.
In this manner, I collected many many books in hardcover before the soft cover release a year later.
Luckily enough, this isn’t a requirement for you. Perhaps, it’s a matter of some consumerism (as most matters are these days), but it is also a choice in pleasure.
I’ve seen a lot of people recounting and reflecting on their story of where they were during 9/11 on that fateful day so I’ve decided to share my story in this space as well. Some of you may not know me well, but I was born in New York, on Long Island, to be precise, and I don’t remember much about the specifics. I was six. I was in elementary school. I remember being confused, sensing my teacher’s apprehension and the fierce whispers and plastered concerned smiles of my teachers. On that day, all the parents rushed to pick us up out of school. The mood was edged in fear, but I didn’t remember why. I can still see those burning towers in my eyes. For hours on end, the towers were projected on my television screen. But I couldn’t understand why. Weeks later, I drew billowing gray clouds on parchment paper with two stark towers to symbolize this moment I had seen — a spectacle of a scene, surely. All my teachers commented on how beautiful my drawing was, but I think in the end, I drew it as a means to understand because I still don’t understand. And these memories — these recollections are a paltry attempt to put meaning to the spectacle, the burning towers crashing down — a love story. How could we not look away? How could I not look away? Years later, I remember the news reel re-runs and the speeches set in constant, regurgitated motion, but I’ll never forget the way it made me feel. I think I’ll keep looking on. Because I’ll never be able to look away. And I don’t think any of us will.
I’ve been contemplating the place the stranger occupies and our relation to it.
Who is the stranger? When does someone cease being the stranger, or the specter, in our eyes?
How did we come to calling the stranger our enemy? I suppose my spirituality predicates many of my views on the stranger as the one who is truly the familiar and it has informed my belief that we are all connected in our uniqueness — all divine expressions of the same source no matter what you want to call it.
In my first poetry collection, I consider the stranger my familiar — my lover, my beloved, and my dearest friend.
Today, my Dad asked me why I sign books for someone I’ve never met and left it there with no clue who may be receiving it.
And as I’ve told you now, I communicated the same message in kind to him.
I believe no one is truly a stranger.
I believe we share this moment and all the ones which came prior.
And if you greeted me on the road, asking for my solace and my embrace, would I not give it?
Repeat after me: I trust and surrender to the magnificent flow of life.
Today has been challenging for me. I’ve been met by specters of the past — doubt and a nameless kind of fear about my future and the birth of my newest aspirations — to write and live in the place where the lioness lay.
So, I’ve chosen to breathe through these shadows and fears and surrender to what is out of my hands and placed within the divine flow of consciousness. I believe in G-d — the magical, the mystical, the wondrous, and the unseen and I know even when I doubt that all is going according to plan.
Take some time for yourself today and dedicate it to play.
What does this look like for you? What does it feel like to trust and surrender to your heart and your wildest desires?
For me, it feels like breathing, dancing, and listening to good music.
For me, it feels like putting on my favorite fragrance and meditating.
I’ve been pretty cryptic for a couple weeks now, dropping hints and mementos of lines on my socials from my first linked collection of short stories, which I’ve decided to publish. The Council of Amara, for me, was a project, which began in a dream, and in the nature of the muse we must listen to all our dreams and treat them with a kind of devotional care. During my senior year of college, I wrote and defended a linked collection of short stories, which spoke to the strength of femininity and the nature of seeing female as strong. Prior to this point, all I had witnessed within film and media was constant caricatures of women as hyper masculinized — cold, frigid, and ready to battle the world with an AK-47 and a bold red lip. As you might imagine, this deeply disturbed me on several levels. In my stories and the stories I saw painted on the page, I longed to see a woman like me: strong and feminine, vulnerable, brave, sometimes uncertain of her path, but strong despite it all. So, I wrote these stories as I contemplated desire and what decisions we are forced to succumb to in the nature of our desire as its magical enchantment grabs us with its silken golden threads and never lets go. I wrote for the women who cry and about the men who watch women cry and do not know how to properly witness it and care for it. I wrote for the men who do not know how to cry. I wrote for the women who long to see themselves in their own stories. And I wrote for myself. The Council of Amara, in its completed form, will be out on December 31st. Preorder is available now.
Yesterday, the stone for one of my favorite rings inset with Astrophyllite fell out. I knew right then and there exactly what this meant for me within my life.
When I purchased this ring years ago, I craved for my purpose — to realize it within this life of my own. In that time, I imagined my purpose to be something greater than me. How wrong was I to conceive this.
All along, years later, I realize now that my purpose has always been within me — an effervescent spark in the dark guiding and reminding me of my home.
It all begins with me and then ripples out to you, my friend.
So, despite the sentimentality I hold with this ring, it’s time to let it go and find another ring, which serves me in my purpose now that I’ve remembered home: a place filled with words and words and words, which I intend to write for the rest of my life.
Today marks the official release of my Dad’s novel: Retrieval. I feel honored to hold space for my Dad and have been incredibly honored to make my Dad’s lifelong dream a reality.
In July, I decided to publish my first full-length poetry collection. This action, in turn, inspired my Dad to pursue his dreams and make them a reality. With my help with digital know-how and formatting, I helped my Dad finally hit that publish button yesterday and I can’t tell you how humbling that feels.
I’ve been mulling over these feelings for quite some time, so I thought I’d put them to the page now. I can’t tell you how honored I feel to have inspired another to go after their dreams after years of conceding to the whims of the traditional publishing industry who deemed my Dad’s manuscript not worthy.
For many years, I was in a similar boat as my father. I thought I would never publish if I couldn’t walk through the golden gates of traditional publishing.
And yet, here we both are now, victorious, with our words written on the page and now in your hands.
The last time I was at the Phoenix Art Museum with my friend, I was at odds with myself and the hundreds of years of creation isolated between the art museum’s walls.
I kept thinking to myself, why me? Why did I choose to be creative in this life when I am constantly reminded of the usefulness of other paths and careers.
At that time, I bemoaned my creativity — wished to be different, in fact. If only I could live a life in pursuit of something technical or scientific, I kept saying.
Now, a few months later, my perspective has radically changed. How lucky I am to live this life — to create art and share it with you, the stranger from a near-far distance.
How lucky I am to be the amalgamation of all the artists and creators who came before me. How lucky I am to live a life where my words can create a ripple in the ocean.
“Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops,” David Mitchell writes in his masterpiece of a novel, Cloud Atlas. And how true he is.
I’ve been thinking of those who’ve been considered the literary greats — Walt Whitman, Bram Stoker, Sappho, Emily Dickinson; the list continues on ad infinitum.
I’ve been thinking of how Whitman spoke of equality — of Bram Stoker’s candid declarations of affection to Whitman and how anyone, including you, can touch someone with your words.
I think it’s rather lovely to hold this space for you, whoever you may be, across this liminal space. My words may not be pressed between a physical page, but I believe they’ve touched someone in the ether.
I’ve been thinking lately about my legacy in these poems and words I press to the page.
One of my favorite musicians, Zella Day, once spoke to the oceanic nature of her songs and how in time she will collect a catalogue of pressed moments, which she can return to any time.
Now, as I near the next poem of my life, I think fondly back on the catalogue I’ve created thus far within my poetry. It’s rather beautiful how I can return to any poem I’ve written, or any work for that matter, and find something new every time.
In the end, this is what I love about art in all its multifaceted forms. I love how artists show up for their art every day. I love how people can find some new interpretation in the words, which I press to the page (and the words you may press to the page).
I love how I can go to an art gallery and connect so viscerally with a portrait painted hundreds of years ago. And I love how I can meet you in this hour, without ever touching you in the physical realm.
That’s why I show up every day in my life. That’s why I show up in my art.
I do it because that’s what it means to live well and to preserve a moment in time for eternity.
This morning, as I made my way to the airport, I was in a rush, surrounded by metallic drab grays and blues with insincere faces and the imminent will of the clock speeding me up.
I reached for my great grandmother’s gold necklace and fixed it onto my neck, combatting a headache and a sleepy daze, which I hadn’t been able to shake since last night.
I’m going home, I kept thinking.
As I rifled through my pockets at the TSA station, I discovered this memento I stowed away days ago from Yosemite Park. Instantly, it brought a smile to my face and made me remember, just like that, the divinity of this moment.
I’ll close off this note by wishing you well on your journey. Make sure you pack spare leaves and mementos as you traverse the darkest corners and emerge brilliant and golden with everything to show for it.
For the last week, I’ve been isolated from all signs of physical connection as witnessed through my cell phone and its reception.
After eight weeks of staring at a phone screen, I was stripped of it all as I traversed Yosemite Park. At first, it was difficult to disconnect from civilization in this regard with no social media, no internet, and no digital map to guide me forward through the unexplored terrain.
Luckily enough, I fared well, requiring only the silence, my feet, my steady breath, and loads of water to make my hike through nature. At the beginning, I found I had no words as I digested the last eight weeks, which passed me in a blur.
And yet, in the silence, I found words within me speaking ever so softly. It had been months since I bled my first poetry collection onto the page. Despite this, I kept wondering what was next for me — what to write, what to create. In my mind, I bought into all these capitalistic, consumptive tendencies even though it’s something I’ve always fought to distance myself from.
“What will I publish next?” This question always lingered on my lips, and as often as I asked it, I returned with nothing to show for the question because I did not have the answer.
And I still don’t.
I don’t know what’s next for me. I think I’m meant to sit on the catalog of poetry I’ve gathered here and continue to write and write until I emerge clearer for the fresh summer air and the silence all around me.
I’ll end this letter with a thank you for the moments of respite I’ve gathered from the Arizona heat.
This afternoon, after waving goodbye to my third-grade class, I wrote these lines on my lesson plan.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to live life truly and how, even I, have been contemplating my next move: What will I publish next? Where will my next gem come from? I’ve been in such a rush that I haven’t stopped to smell the roses.
Today, I realized how being so focused on the next moment has stopped me from sitting with the magnitude of what I’ve done in the last three months alone. I’ve published my first chapbook and my first full-length poetry collection. Why, then, can’t I sit with this accomplishment and celebrate all that I have accomplished in such a short amount of time?
What pushes me to push forward — to contemplate, to strike away at a new meditation before it is the right time to do so?
I believe there’s a number of reasons (societal and otherwise for this), but I’ll refrain from that long interlude and remain present, here and now with you.
When I graduated from college and completed my undergraduate thesis, a dear friend spoke to me about how we couldn’t just sit with our achievements and marvel in them all; we had to constantly be onto “the next big thing” as we moved forward in our educations. Suffice it to say, I fell guilty to this same phenomenon because I couldn’t just sit with my words in the silence.
I think all the world’s problems would be solved if we just sat with our silence.
So, I think I shall sit in silence for a little while until the muse strikes me once again.
I’ve left this website largely untouched for a matter of years. After a series of detours, I find myself back home again — the setting altogether the same, the perspective significantly changed. I found my home in the words I put to the page as the words around me changed, splashing me with their uncertain, malleable light.
I suppose what I mean to say is this much: I am not the person who originally created this website, and yet, she is still a part of me. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, I wrote and wrote and wrote and then I stopped writing. After a series of rejections from Master’s programs in Creative Writing, I gave up. I sank into a deep depression and doubted all the steps, which led me to this very page. I imagined that my God-given gifts had been denied by a greater, unseeable force.
It wasn’t until after trauma, wonder, and stars that I realized my gift is my own expression to embody in this lifetime — and that’s exactly what I intend to do.
So, I’ve reclaimed this page and these words as my own in the name of expression and in the name of returning home.