Life Lesson

radical DIY selfie by Laura Kochman

Today, somebody that I love was very sick and sent me a message about it, then later apologized: I'm sorry. Sorry to worry you. Sorry to bother you. I'm sorry—

I do this all the time, myself. All this month, needing something to write about, I've turned to myself, because I am right here. And I feel horribly self-conscious about it—so sorry. I tell myself it's not becoming to write about myself. It's not interesting to write about myself. I think this blog would be so much more interesting if I could just write about something else other than myself, that by virtue of writing about literally anything other than myself, what I write will be interesting and of value. If somebody else wanted to write about me, then that would potentially be interesting and worthwhile, but if I do it myself? Do I need to keep spelling this out? It's not good.

What if instead of apologizing, we just didn't? What if, when we wanted to write about ourselves, we just did? What if, instead of waiting for others to confer value upon us, we just did it ourselves? Radical DIY self-appreciation. Valuing yourself isn't about ignoring other people, or valuing yourself higher than other people. It's just about letting you speak, which has worth / which has worth.

by Laura Kochman

I have just obtained a parking permit so that I can park in my own neighborhood, and I also just realized that I've kept this blog up for over 2 years. I missed that anniversary, completely. Looking back at my first blog post in 2012, I can tell you that I never built that coffee table, nor have I framed the broadsides. The coffee table's a wash since we got one from IKEA, but I still plan on doing something with those broadsides. And! two years later, I'm still obsessed with houses and home and belonging and longing. At that point I didn't know the house in Margate would fill with sand during the hurricane, or that I'd never go back there. I have three orchids now, and the descendent of that original wandering jew plant. I hardly got any tomatoes that summer, because of the heat and blossom end rot. I didn't know the tree behind my house would get hit by lightning. I also remember, very clearly, counting up my mosquito bites that summer and hitting 72, but according to my own blog, I never did that, so, memory is faulty I guess. I started writing here for a few different reasons, one of which was to force myself to be a more honest and open writer (and maybe a more honest and open person). Doors of New Jersey is the second most honest and open thing I've ever done, and this blog is probably the first. Happy two years, blog.

[ the oldest photo of me I could find on my computer / somebody's party / I'm the one with the balloon ]

by Laura Kochman

I've been trying to write a little journal-like thought at the top of the page in my writing journal, an appetizer for my brain for each day that I sit down to write. I just now realized I should have been blogging those. Here's today:  

Today is my birthday! 7 minutes to write. I spent most of my time this morning reading poems in lit journals, because I feel most like writing when I’ve been reading. I wasn’t super in love with anything I read today, though. A week ago I read a Sasha Fletcher poem in Big Lucks and that was the last thing I was gaga about. I have a few books coming to me in the mail, to review, but otherwise I think I’ve read almost every book I have already.

HA. It’s hilarious that I just said that. There’s no way that that’s true.


And then I wrote. So it seems useful. I've always needed a small push to get started, so it's good to know that about myself and work with it, instead of against it.

by Laura Kochman

Yesterday was the official first day of classes, but today was the first class for me this semester. My first year here, I wanted to take Printing I in the Book Arts program, but I didn't yet know how to be persistent, and I never did. So I'm taking it now, in my last year at Alabama. This morning, the instructor talked to us about the history of type and fonts, and we all chatted a little about our experiences with fonts. I don't have any experience with letterpress printing, so my own experiences are limited to my involvement with lit journals, and personal font choices for writing and submitting. A lot of the slides were familiar to me, though, because of my art history background, especially in manuscript illumination. One of the slides showed the Phoenician alphabet, in a format similar to this:

That might even be the exact image. The point is, the names and shapes of these letters are closely related to the Hebrew alphabet, and I sat there reading them to myself and feeling a weird sense of belonging and I teared up a little. I don't think, or I hope, anyone noticed.

I have some vague memories of learning how to write in English, but for me, learning Hebrew was a formative experience in terms of thinking about text and meaning. I had to practice so carefully how to make the right kind of curve, to distinguish between formal serifed Hebrew and sans serif cursive Hebrew. I had to do everything backwards, and so I thought about direction. In school, the rabbis touched the letters as they read them, and I learned how to read through the Chumash as a segmented object. We studied the numerical value of the alphabet and the way the yud is actually present in every letter.

I've lost pretty much any fluency I once had, but that mode of thinking about text has stayed with me, though it's only in the past few years that I've made the connection between my interest in form and my experience with language. For me, words are not just a shortcut to meaning or understanding. The shape and space of those words are just as important as the dictionary definition. In conversations about poetry, I am continually surprised by readers for whom every use of space is some kind of symbolic gesture that the reader must puzzle through. I try very hard to appreciate that kind of reader and/or writer, but my brain just doesn't work that way, and I don't care to force it to.

Because today was also the last first day of school for me, after my last long summer break, I'm also thinking now about life after academia. Did I wait too long to take this class? Would I be happy if I kept studying in a field more closely related to the visual arts? Right now, I'm dreaming of working for a contemporary art museum. B and I recently had a conversation about spiritual experiences, because neither one of us is particularly religious, and for me the two closest things to that kind of feeling are writing and being in a museum. I'm afraid that when I leave academia, I'll lose my access to the visual art community. I don't have anything meaningful or insightful to say about that. I wish I did.

by Laura Kochman

In the interest of shaping things, I'm running a 5K on Saturday. IMG_1815


It's my second 5K ever, and I got these new shoes, and I'm making a playlist. If I beat my first 5K time, I'll be happy. I'm just proud of myself for being able to run at all, since I spent much of my life begging out of mile runs in gym, joining the field team instead of the track team in high school, getting winded and asthmatic after 5 minutes of jogging. These shoes are SO MUCH BRIGHTER in person. When the sun hits them, they're so bright I can't even look at them.

I'm starting my new job, emailing and organizing and asking questions. Putting labels on every kind of email. Starting to see a shape for the year to come, the arc from event to event. Tomorrow, I'll start cleaning up my physical space, too, throwing things out to make this move easier. Somehow all I've managed to do so far is acquire new things (couch, end tables, shoe rack). There are only 3 weeks left in my airy pink house, so the least I could do is keep them clean.

by Laura Kochman

Today was a really nice day. I set aside grading to do something fun, following last night's MFA prom (really--there was a dance floor and a photo backdrop). Today was also the two year anniversary of the tornado here in Tuscaloosa, and I am lucky to have the privilege of a nice day, I think. So many things were destroyed, but two years later, there can still be nice days. A lot of the people at the prom last night will leave soon, which is so strange, because I am a perpetual little sister who wants someone older around, someone who knows what's what. The eBook that we all made together is still out there on the Internet, all of us huddled around a buffet potluck dinner. After the storm, they were the ones that organized us all, but somehow, soon I will be one of the oldest siblings (you know, in a metaphorical way). I will be an organizer. There's something both incredibly empowering and terrifying about this.  

a series of locks and breakages by Laura Kochman

In the name of shaping things, in the name of movement and transformation, in the name of central air conditioning and mornings sandwiched between boyfriend and cat, I am leaving this open, lighted space. I'm giving my ladybug house to someone else, and paring down the long list of objects I've compiled. Our new apartment will be a small puzzle, and I do so love it when everything fits together neatly [See: my grading spreadsheets]. This past year has been the only time that I've lived alone, and I've enjoyed that sense of control, but I want a shared couch and an interlocking library. I spent a lot of time, in college, longing for a stable living space, but moving into this new space is the thing I'm longing for now. I wrote 33 pages last semester about the moment of interface between states of being, and I can feel myself approaching this point of breakage, the halting lock that opens, the lapse. One month and one half month until the chaos of boxes and sweat rises and subsides into a new sense of daily reality. The cat likes to curl up in my lap and press his forehead against something stable, so that he is entirely contained, the pressure of the other reminding him of the safe walls of his own body, I imagine. Like being tucked into bed, I imagine. The shower curtain is making the move this time, though. That thing is a beauty and it's going to live with me until it molds.

by Laura Kochman

It's been so long since my last blog post that when I started typing the address of this blog into Chrome, it didn't do that thing where it fills in the site address. It just sort of looked at me blankly, like What? I don't...get it. The boyfriend has pointed out to me that it is incredibly ironic that I was so excited about getting Internet, being able to blog whenever I wanted, and then never did again. Well! This will show him. I'll start blogging again. It is literally a new year, a new semester. I'm currently fighting the urge to write about how school is going, because school and teaching are things that I apparently give my time to instead of writing. This is a lesson I am learning. My Paul Thek project is still a thing I want to pursue (maybe a thesis?), but right now I am just trying to write. Recently, a whole bunch of my work has been published, and there are still a couple more journals where more work will appear soon, and this year my first chapbook will be published with my dream chapbook press, and yet I am having the hardest time just writing. A while back I went through a phase like this and I was told it was a sign of change, of an evolution in my writing, and eventually I got through it because obviously I have written since then, but it is never fun to be inside of this space. So I resolve to write, whatever it is that I write (including this blog).

Since we last spoke my old apartment has been torn down, turned to rubble and then wiped away and then the ground underneath dug into, the shadow of a foundation for a condo appearing. It's weird. I lived there for two years, and the space in which I did so many things no longer exists. I could stand around in the vague sense of where my bedroom was, maybe estimate my coordinates, but without the enclosure I don't know, really. I went in there right before it got torn down, because the door was open and it was dark and there was a coffee table inside that I thought about taking. We shone a flashlight around, because everything was torn out, all the potentially valuable pipes--although I can't imagine that any of those pipes hold any value--and it was really just the walls and the shitty tiles that used to break under my feet when I stepped too hard. It looked abandoned, because it was.

My grandmother's beach house is also gone now, and that is a stranger sort of hole. After Hurricane Sandy, I got pictures of the street covered in sand, my familiar landscape made strange, almost moony. It wasn't damaged as badly as other places along the shore, but the water got inside, and it wasn't worth fixing, especially because it was going to be sold anyway. So now it's sold, and, we assume, torn down to make room for somebody's dream beach house. Feeling sad about the destruction of a vacation home is a luxury, I know, but there is more than one way to have a home. The closet where I hid in my cousin's nightgown is gone, and so is the dining room where I ate my grandma's terrible macaroni. The sunroom where I laid on the couch all day and cried about Animal Cops Houston. The bedroom with the beds always full of sand. The wood-paneled staircase that felt like it led to another dimension, and the pock-marked concrete backyard where I scraped the sand off my feet and sprayed my body down with hard water.

You can find these spaces in these poems in these spaces: The Journal, Sixth Finch, Spittoon, CutBank. The cat is currently making a tiny home in a box I left out for him, the container from an unexpected and completely wonderful gift. I left it turned over on its side, with the wrapping paper crinkled out the edges invitingly, like I used to leave out new shells for my hermit crabs, hopeful. He has finally decided that the box is worth his time, and keeps turning around and shifting the paper and scratching to make the most deliberate holes and poking his little head out his new front door.


by Laura Kochman

And now that we have returned to the desert life of the plain, let us endeavor to impart a little of that mountain grandeur into it. We will remember within what walls we lie, and understand that this level life too has its summit, and why from the mountain top the deepest valleys have a tinge of blue; that there is elevation in every hour, as no part of the earth is so low that the heavens may not be seen from, and we have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon. - Thoreau, from "A Walk to Wachusett"

Not such bad advice. He takes a long time to get here, though (har har).

by Laura Kochman

Anyone who knows me knows that I have problems with being on time. This is a thing I inherited from my mother, but I accept full responsibility. I just don't know time very well. Me and time, we're not close. I never know how long anything will take me to do, and it always takes longer, and then I show up late, which everyone expected anyway, and I feel horrible guilt about it. HORRIBLE guilt. I value your time, I really do. I just don't know how to be responsible in that way.

Running late is usually my excuse for driving my car to campus, which is a bad habit I would like to evaporate. This morning, on boyfriend's advice, I woke up at 7 and had time to wake up, brush teeth, water the garden, feed the cat his 2 morning meals, take a shower, eat breakfast, and walk to campus. WHAT WHAT. You know it.

Me and time, we have a difficult relationship but we are working on it.