THE RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE

“I say there is no darkness/but ignorance.” — William Shakespeare

Today,
for the first time in more than a decade,
I dislodged The Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition
from it’s prominent place
on my bedside table,
and blew a collection of dust from its cover.
Its primary use over the last few years has been:
to prop up my oil diffuser,
make a stand for the Kleenex box,
and create a handy shelf for my smaller book of “Shakespearean Insults”.
I had a love/hate relationship with this
behemoth
all through college.
The love part came
during the late nights of reading
“Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night”
while taking copious notes
in ragged college-ruled binders,
while dreaming up ideas for my next
20-page paper.
The hate part came when I had to lug the
15-pound volume across campus,
up several flights of stairs to the classroom.
(I’m sure I have curvature of the spine to this day.)
I’m re-reading “As You Like It” for the one-hundredth time,
as I will be seeing the play at the Utah Shakespeare Festival
in a few weeks.
I have a stand-alone, sparse copy of “As You Like It”,
but something from the bowels of  The Riverside Shakespeare
called to me.
As I cracked its well-worn binding
and leafed through its vellum-like pages,
all the notes and underlining
came back in a flood.
I used a silver gel pen
and the markings are thin and precise.
Hanging on Will’s words (and play on words) was a hobby of mine.
Only two Shakespeare classes were required for my major:
one tragedy, one comedy.
I took at least three additional,
including an independent study course
on the plays no one wants to read. (“Troilus and Cressida” anyone?)
Delving into Shakespeare’s meanings and teaching them in a concise way
was an expertise of my professor who had her own volumes of knowledge.
I’d been to her home previously,
where guests were greeted in her entryway by a suit of armor.
Her house was a living testament to the finer parts of the Middle Ages.
Reading Shakespeare plays is a difficult fete.
Understanding them is not easy — especially if you haven’t seen the play.
But in the end;
we know Macbeth’s wife cannot get out the damned spot,
we know Romeo & Juliet are destined to die,
we know Puck lurks merrily in the woods creating mischief.
However; I figured out more about myself from Shakespeare
than from any other classes I took in college.
In many ways,
even though Shakespeare’s era was more than 400 years ago,
I feel an indelible connection
to his snark, his wayward characters, and those he makes lovable.
Yet, all the while,
it reminds me of a period in my own life less than 20 years ago,
which was also riddled with
comedy,
tragedy,
darkness,
uncertainty,
and in the end, the brightest light.
The Riverside Shakespeare

POLK AVENUE, 1992

The summer after we moved into the red house on Polk Avenue with the weepingest weeping willow tree, I took over lawn mowing duties from my father. Being the eldest, I slipped right in to the feeling that yard work should somehow be my responsibility. I’ve always had a fear of anything with a whirring blade (table saw, garbage disposal, lawn mower). I knew a kid once who accidentally lost two of his toes, but isn’t that what one deserves for mowing the lawn while barefoot? Despite that underlying, nagging fear; I felt a sense of calm in making perfect paths of clipped grass. If my father was upset that I mangled two sprinkler heads during that time period, he never mentioned it directly to me, but likely muttered heavily about it under his breath.

We had an above-ground pool in the backyard at the house with maroon siding. Our excitement was palpable at the time, though I’m certain now my sister would call this type of backyard adornment “white trash”. Anytime the water temperature was above 68 degrees, which was indicative by a tiny thermometer, my sisters and I warranted it worthy of a swim. I would skim off the water skeeters and the leaves fallen from the nearby tree and once we were in suits and had our fluffy towels, we played games and did somersaults into the shallow depth. We swam almost daily during the summer of 1992.

I sometimes secretly (or not so secretly) miss the days when my friends and I would go to the video rental store and browse the shelves. We would wander the aisles looking at new releases and cult classics. It often took hours to find a movie that wasn’t “all rented out” AND all of us wanted to watch. My friends had certain fall-back movies they always deemed worthy of renting; one of those titles was “Groundhog Day”. I love Bill Murray, but never cared for Andie McDowell. Something about her acting struck me as disingenuous. I can’t imagine waking up to the same day every day. That movie still gives me anxiety.

My freshman year coincided with a centennial celebration for the high school. While the castle-like, art-deco building had only been around for fifty years, the high school itself had existed for ten decades. The innocence of that year — of painting the football field for homecoming, of having a street named after the school, of spending late nights watching “Saturday Night Live”, of having a new crush almost every month — produces in me a sense of happiness and longing for the days of yesteryear.

THE FINAL LIFETIME

Recalling the person I was
all those lifetimes ago,
holding the red Solo cup
surely sloshing a sweet liquor
I would regret consuming
the next morning.

You chased me.
I allowed the pursuit,
confused in my teenage brain
about where I belonged among
the Mormon-pioneer-ancestor
mountains.

At the behest of my parents,
we married (living in sin is a sin).
They paid for the Vegas wedding,
but did not attend.
Probably best that way.
We wore vampire fangs,
because it was Halloween.
My dress was a paisley-print velvet material
and my feet blistered
from wearing dull-but-new Mary Jane shoes.

It feels like yesterday and 20 years ago
and all those lifetimes ago.
You didn’t have a lot to offer.
Your mom never read to you when you were little.
You’d done drugs and dealt drugs
and drank and drank and drank.
We lived in an 8×8 foot room,
mis-matched dressers stacked on top of each other.
Mis-matched desires trying to stoke the same fire.

All those lifetimes ago,
you told me you wouldn’t be able to get anyone pregnant.
Said you’d taken a steel-toed boot to the groin.
Within two weeks of casting aside my prescription,
I was growing a life.
The only productive, worthwhile thing that resulted
from our broken-down, wrecked-18-wheeler of a marriage.

It always felt like full-speed ahead,
because we will die someday?
If we don’t drink this case of beer now, who will?
It was a hostage situation —
me being held by the Insane Clown Posse and their juggalos.
You were never home,
and when you were, you weren’t present.
I missed my Granny’s 85-birthday party,
because you didn’t want to make the 70-minute drive.

Time slowed when you left.
I was glad to grab every inch of the sanity,
and give myself a few miles of this final lifetime.

ODE TO MY YOUTH: I WANNA GO BACK

I long for 1991 —
before Bill Clinton
stained a navy dress
in the Oval Office,
and a narcissist had taken
the oath to become President.

<Hand on the Bible,
semi-shocked
it didn’t catch fire
as his hand touched the leather.>

I wanna listen to Jesus Jones
“Right here, right now/
There is no other place that I want to be…”
And E.M.F.’s semi-snarky,
“You’re unbelievable.”

I want to sit at the coffee shop
across the street from my art-deco high school
and eat chocolate chocolate chip muffins
without gaining a pound.
I would even do calisthenics on the football field
while Coach Parrish barks his orders
if it means I can go back to 1991.

Give me my R.E.M. t-shirt.
My Depeche Mode S&M poster.
My locker mirror.
The three-mile walk to a friend’s house.
Cleaning our above-ground backyard pool —
always a little more chilly than was suitable for a swim.

Take me away from the misogyny.
The Russia investigation.
The deregulation of the EPA.
The Mitch Turtle McConnell.
The de-funding of Planned Parenthood.
The world as it currently exists.

MY BREAK UP WITH SOCIAL MEDIA: A LOVE STORY

I should have known long ago that social media wasn’t going to work for me. I should have known that being part of so many fake lives, conservative spewers, and uppity trolls wasn’t going to add positivity to the construct of my everyday life, and would only serve to make me bitter and depressed.

I would say the signs that social media probably wasn’t going to be my thing started more than a decade ago. My sisters had both moved away from home and started blogs so we could keep up with their lives. I read their blogs occasionally and sometimes left comments. At one point, my sister posted about how much she disliked hearing about “Twilight” and could people please stop talking about “Twilight”. I was also extremely over hearing about it, and this was before the movies had even been made. I left a comment akin to, “The only people I know who have read ‘Twilight’ and think it’s the greatest book ever written have pretty much never read any other books in their entire lives.” My comment wasn’t long. It wasn’t slanderous against one particular person. It was just an observation I had made, because a couple of the people I knew who were practically illiterate felt the need to tell me what an amazing book “Twilight” was. My sister told me shortly thereafter that her mother-in-law had been offended by my comment, because she and her daughters all liked “Twilight”, so my sister had deleted my comment. I was honestly quite perplexed. In sharing what I viewed as a pretty mild and not-that-big-of-a-deal opinion, I had been censored. It was not long after that when a friend of mine mentioned to me that another friend of ours was “upset” because I didn’t read or comment on her blog. 1. Why did she even notice? 2. Why did she care? I decided from then on that I wouldn’t leave comments on anyone’s blogs. I was done. Within the next several months, I pretty much never read blogs anymore.

It was around this time that I joined MySpace. What a weird community. I don’t even know if it could be called a community. I didn’t personally know many people who were actually using it, but several of the bands and musicians I liked were on the platform, so I followed them and even corresponded with a couple. It lost its luster rather quickly for me though. It didn’t seem like a sustainable platform. Shortly thereafter, in early 2009, I created a Facebook account. I had said to many, many people that I would never join Facebook. I weighed the pros and cons for months. I’ve never been one to give into peer pressure. In fact, I’m more likely to not do something everyone else is doing. Pros: I would be able to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I would be able to share random thoughts I had during the day. (Many of my thoughts are pretty amusing.) I could better organize an upcoming class reunion. I could see pictures of my friends’ babies and my nieces. After a while, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons. I look back now at how fun it was when I first joined. Back in those days, people weren’t posting links to news stories. Fake news was many years from coming into existence. I don’t even remember seeing many politically charged comments. Re-posts and memes weren’t in heavy rotation yet. It seemed like most people still had original thoughts. Eventually, both of my best friends joined as well. Since they both live out of state, this made me extremely happy. I ended up reconnecting with a handful of people I hadn’t seen or talked to in ages. I was working from home at the time, so it helped me actually feel social. There was probably a juncture, which I’m embarrassed to admit, when I would spend hours a day on Facebook. I would log in at night and hope some of my friends from San Francisco would be online so we could chat. I would post random comments or thoughts on friends’ walls. I had a good time in the medium. I didn’t have a smartphone yet, so the only time I was on Facebook was when I was on a computer. It wasn’t always with me. It wasn’t sending me a continuous stream of notifications. Not everyone I knew was even using it.

I eventually joined Instagram. I was a fairly early adopter of the tool and created an account about a year after it came into being. I liked the cleanliness of the Instagram format. Facebook had started to lose its appeal, because of the changes they had made to their algorithms. I don’t want to see what my friends were liking or what comments they were making on a public link. I found that I was hiding more and more posts and people. I also had some Facebook battles with former high school classmates about what myself and a couple other individuals had planned for our 20-year reunion. The nonsense of it all was quite miserable. Once the reunion was over, I removed myself from our reunion group. Before that, I had taken extended breaks from Facebook, a couple which occurred in conjunction with squabbles with my brother-in-law over religious matters. I won’t go into details regarding this, because it could be a post unto itself. I eventually ended up unfriending him, which he didn’t figure out for about six months. But once he noticed, feelings were hurt and my sister said it was awkward. (I didn’t think it was at all.) There are just some people who can’t retain a sense of decorum in online forums. I was also upset because given the context of why I unfriended him, I felt like my sister should be on my side, but she clearly wasn’t. I felt like myself and my friends who felt the way I did and voiced opinions about particular subjects were being trolled. This past September, I started one of my extended hiatuses from Facebook. I didn’t do it thinking “this is election season”, the fact that it was just constituted as a bonus. After the election, my sister left a comment about the election results on one of my Instagram posts. We had a major difference of opinion. I had a lot to say to her, but it wouldn’t have ended well. I knew that eventually, I wouldn’t be able to keep silent. I would bottle my annoyances, and end up exploding at one or more people, potentially damaging relationships. I am a passionate person and rarely ride the gray line in any regard. If I believe something, I believe it with all of my heart, so it’s a wonder that I lasted as long as I did without getting into serious altercations with certain individuals who were spouting racist or sexist ideas or propagating fake news or extreme alt-right views. I couldn’t sleep on election night. Once again, I weighed the pros and cons of social media, and this time, the cons far outweighed the pros. I knew I was done with it all. At 1am on November 9, 2016; I deactivated my social media accounts.

People keep asking me if I miss it. I miss a couple aspects of it, like seeing pictures of my nieces and nephews, but I make a more concerted effort to send them snail mail or talk to them on the phone. I also created folders in my cloud so that I can see pictures of them whenever I want. For me, the benefit of expunging social media has led me to a sense of peace and calm I had forgotten was possible. It’s made life slow down and not feel so crazed. It’s created a greater sense of patience for me. I spend more time reading and thinking. After the election, I felt such deflation and sadness that it was hard for me to sit at the keyboard without crying, but I am now feeling compelled to get back into writing as well. One of my biggest accomplishments since exiting social media is that I have lost 20 pounds. Instead of lounging around checking my accounts, I’m up and moving and logging my steps, water, and calorie intakes.

Mark Zuckerberg thinks the world cannot survive with Facebook. I read an article in a magazine not long ago which stated that he thinks everyone on this planet should have access to a computer so they can be on Facebook. I am living proof that not only is survival possible, but living life to the fullest is more possible when one casts off the tether of social media. I have been making a concerted effort to get together in person with friends. To hold social gatherings — something that’s difficult for me given my proclivity for wanting alone time. To write letters, cards, or send packages. To call or text someone directly when I am thinking about them. All these things seem more personal to me than social media ever did. Some of these things seem like lost arts with all that social media has lead us to believe is “normal”. I have also found more time to devote to causes which matter to me. If you don’t think you want to delete or deactivate your social media accounts, I recommend taking a break from them to reconnect with yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you find and suddenly remember a simpler time that you didn’t realize still existed.

JUST STOP ALREADY

It was just locker room talk
Alternative facts
I have the best words
Sad! (Exclamation mark!)
American carnage
Mexico is gonna pay for that wall
I have the best people
He’s for the little guy
Forgotten men and women (x3)
Yuge Jyna
I don’t even have to ask, they just let me
We have to bring the jobs back!
Our country has a lot of problems
Repeal and replace Obama Care
It was a great speech
The world is a total mess
Extreme vetting
He’s gunna Make America Great Again

GEN X: I WASN’T BUILT FOR THIS

I sobbed last night.
I let the warmth of my tears
overtake the pit in my stomach.

I pushed down the hollow of watching
red bleed across the map
and overtake the white and the blue.

You think you know people,
then you end up disappointed.
I deactivated my social media accounts.

I wasn’t built for this era:
of hate, fear-mongering, and war.
My purpose resides somewhere
above the lithosphere.

Lean closer, closer
so I can whisper my sorrows
and remove this unbearable weight
like a female Jesus.

I cried last night —
for my daughter, for her generation
they’ve had this heaped on them unwillingly.

I felt ashamed to exist here.
I became a balloon with a pin-sized hole
slowly, slowly deflated.

Racism, intolerance, misogyny —
I wasn’t built for this era.
Give me back my MTV, the bygone years.

This cloak of reality
needs to be pitched into the fire
and build a Phoenix from the ashes.

“When they go low, we go high.”