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. ✨
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.
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.
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.
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.