“So, I’ve been in Macon for about 18 years. Yeah.
I can’t believe it, but you know, I moved to Macon thinking, ‘Ohhh, this is too small a place for me. I have to have a city. I just can’t…’
I just didn’t think I fit in.
Now, I love it. I just had to find my community. And I love living downtown. I’m very happy here. I love Mercer.
That’s just the kind of place that Macon is. People look out for each other and help each other out.
I feel like it is home now. Because really I’ve lived here as long as I’ve lived any other place.
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania [is where I’m from]. My dad taught at Swarthmore College. So, I really grew up on campus. So, I feel like in a way, this is home…because I’m on a campus again. And my son’s growing up on a campus.
It’s just exciting to see so many young people around.
They’re always lectures and concerts and art exhibits. There’s just so much stimulating stuff going on.
I loooooove the downtown. I wouldn’t live anywhere else but downtown.
I think the community is strong here. We just get a lot of artistic, creative, interesting people who live here. I like the old houses, the history.
When I first moved here, everyone scared me away, ‘Don’t live downtown. It’s dangerous.’
I don’t feel that way at all.
It’s beautiful. I love sitting out here. Not in the summer, ‘cause it gets too hot. But when it gets cool in the fall, I come sit out here.
And, I’m kind of like the old lady who watches everyone go by.
It’s like a small-town city feel.
I’m awful at talking. If you ask me questions, I’ll be able to talk about them.
But, I’m just the type of person that, like, if you put me at a party with a bunch of people, I gravitate to the food table. I just…It’s just so hard for me to think of things to talk about.
Even though, with my husband, I talk all the time at home and at school. But…
I’ve always been a writer. I wrote my first poem in third or fourth grade. It was about snowflakes. And, my father thought this was a really important sign because his father, who was an accountant, was also kind of secretly a poet.
And, his one poem that he ever had published was about snowflakes. So, he felt like this was a divine sign.
But, I’ve just always felt like writing is my mother tongue. I’ve just always loved to write, and it’s always been the way I’ve expressed myself.
And I feel more comfortable writing than I do speaking.
I have more control when I’m writing than when I am speaking. I love the beauty of words and the sounds.
Like, when I think of myself, I’ve just always thought of myself as a writer.
If someone asked, ‘What are you?’
‘I’m a poet.’
I’m very ritualistic, so I always write in my office, sitting in my chair, with my blanket over my lap…I like to be in a certain place. Often I will read something first…But, I try to do it every day.
If I don’t do it, I just don’t feel right about myself. I feel like I am missing part of who I am when I’m not writing.
I start feeling kind of ill when I don’t write for a long time.
It’s weird, to explain. It’d be like if you didn’t all the sudden do the thing that you most love. You wouldn’t feel right about yourself.
I have, like, a hunger to do it. A need…a primal need…it feeds that hunger when I write. I feel like I’ve done this essential thing that I have to do to be me or to be productive.
It feels like I’m answering my calling in the world.
I feel like I’ve been called to be a writer, and if I don’t do it I’m not living my life the way I should be living it.
It’s very…at the heart of who I am.
I just feel like, I can’t imagine not writing. I would just be not living if I weren’t writing.
You need to be constantly reading. The problem is that people aren’t reading. I think that’s really a tragedy in our culture, because writers speak truth. And, they speak truth to power.
And if people aren’t reading and they aren’t writing, then we’re just living in an echochamber of talk that isn’t necessarily subtle or well thought out or complex.
I think writing helps you think better. So, if you’re not writing you’re not…it makes it hard for you to really think well.
If you can’t put together, like, a coherent, communicative sentence with somebody, then you can’t possibly even understand what you’re trying to say.
I think if you understand what you’re trying to say, you write it better. And if you don’t have anything to say, then you don’t write well. It’s the other way around, too. If you don’t write, then you don’t know what you’re going to say.
We as a culture have to get back to valuing writing and the written word and sharing it in a really complex way, not just 140-characters, or whatever twitter is…working through ideas.
Yes, my tichel! I order them from an Orthodox Jewish woman in Israel who makes them. I wear this volumizer under it to give it height.
You know I didn’t want to look like, when I went out, ‘Ohhhh, there’s someone with cancer.’ I wanted to make some kind of statement, like, ‘Here I am. And, I’m in a crappy situation. I’m not in a good situation. But I want to look pretty, you know, and still look like I’m confident self.’
It’s like my treat to myself. I feel much better. I still get stares. I just feel equipped. It’s like my armor. And I can deal with people staring at me and giving me weird looks.
‘Is she Muslim?’ or ‘Does she have cancer?’ Or ‘Is she just being weird?’
It has really helped, because losing my hair was really hard.
When I was first diagnosed in 2004, it was not really that difficult for me. The losing the hair was not that big of a deal.
Now that I have a child, it was a lot harder because I knew that he would look at me differently. And it would scare him to see me losing my hair. So I felt like I had to prepare for that. I don’t know, I felt like I had to have some alternative to being a mom with hair.
I decided to make it my mission. I decided to show women, you know what, you shouldn’t be ashamed of not having any hair.
Especially young women…they don’t have to feel ashamed. They should just take ownership of their lives. And…taking ownership of your appearance is part of taking ownership of your life.
Saying, ‘Here I am. Accept me the way I am.’
If you want to go bald, that’s awesome too. Just being who you are and comfortable with who you are.
I think a lot of people conflate having hair with being womanly, so women who lose their hair feel, all of a sudden, like they’re not womanly anymore. I wanted to kind of just tell people, ‘No, you don’t have to feel that way. You don’t have to be embarrassed.’
Having cancer is harder [than being a mother] because it’s frightening. But so is being a mother.
I mean, they’re just so different you can’t compare them. They both have their own difficulties. It’s funny, because on a day-to-day level, the motherhood part is more challenging than the cancer part.
The motherhood part never stops. I never have, you know, time off. But, it’s wonderful.
There’s really nothing wonderful about cancer.
You don’t congratulate someone for getting cancer.
It’s very clarifying because it forces you to look at your life and ask yourself what’s important. What matters in my life and what doesn’t? Which relationships do I want to spend the most time nurturing? What’s absolutely essential that I get done?
You just can’t waste any time.
To keep myself from despair, I have to very consciously be aware of the moment.
Everyone says, ‘Oh, live in the moment.’ But no one really does it.
Like when I am sitting in Just Tap’d, and I’m having a beer, and I’m feeling happy, I have to stop myself and consciously think to myself: ‘I’m happy right now. My life is really happy right now.’
I have to have those moments to come back to, to remind myself: ‘No, I have a happy life.’
You know, we’re all going to die. Life just ends. Most people don’t think about it because we’re a death-phobic culture.
When you have cancer, you can’t put off thinking about it. You have to think about it.
When people say to me, ‘Oh, your life is so much harder than mine,’ which is really, I hate that.
But, I don’t think my life really is harder than theirs, I just think I’m more aware of things than they are. Maybe I’m not in denial.
It’s just that other people are focused on unimportant, silly things.
Whereas, I am not stressed out about those silly things. I have other issues that I worry about. But, I don’t…It’s a hard life. But, I’m not an unhappy person.
You know, I find ways to be happy in my life.
But, you know, you have to do that consciously. It’s difficult.
I don’t want to be too, like, rosy…it’s not that…I’m just saying, living consciously and being aware of the imminence of death and the transience of life and living with that knowledge and accepting it.
To me, you have to accept it.
I’m not about fighting my life, or fighting cancer, or fighting my situation, I’m about accepting where I am at any given time.
Acceptance means I’m not going to live as long as I wanted to. And I’m not going to get to do everything that I wanted to in life. And this is where I am.
And, I can either be miserable and curse my life, or I can try to find the joy in it and just accept it. This is what I am right now.
If you have a purpose in your life, you can accept even the worst situation, I think, to a degree.
My greatest joys are definitely being with my husband and son and seeing beautiful things and writing.
I regret that I lived a very safe life, and I always did the safe things. I never took risks. I wish, looking back, at my younger self, I could say: ‘Go live in Europe for a year.’ ‘Go, ummm, take a job that doesn’t pay a lot of money, and just write.’ And, ‘Don’t worry so much about the future.’
I was always soooo focused on the future and being secure, and I kind of wish I hadn’t done that.
I would never tell my son that.
My style icons…well I love Audrey Hepburn because she was always put together and beautiful and elegant. But she always, also had such compassion and heart and empathy. So, I love her.
Style is being able to live your life graciously and beautifully, not just in terms of the clothes you wear.
Style for me is dignity.
And self-acceptance. Somebody who accepts themselves, to me, is somebody with a personal style. And you can tell when someone accepts themselves or when they’re trying to be something else, when they’re trying to conform. You can just tell.
I really love pretty dresses, too. If I had lots of money I would just buy lots of pretty dresses. So, like, I am not just deep. I’m totally superficial.
I just like feeling pretty and special. I think clothing can do that for you. Clothing can be a fantasy. It’s a language.
You are expressing something about myself.
It’s a language. It speaks to what you value.
I love clothing. I don’t think clothing is superficial.
My muses are Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, who are two Russian authors. I just think of them as perfect poets, like in a celestial realm that I could never reach.
Because they wrote about really important things in accessible language that people could understand. And that’s what I think poetry should do.
I love Gerard Manley Hopkins, for reciting…I love his sound.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flare out, like shining from shook foil
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
So, he goes on. It’s just, it’s just magical and beautiful. I love the sound in his poetry. I do try to imitate him, too, you know, in terms of the sound of his poetry.
Because I love to play with sounds. I love how letters sound together, and I love how vowels sound together…I love playing with that…I do a lot of that.
They were so themselves. And I want to write like myself, and I admire what they do.
Beauty and art are so important to me. I think we live in a world that is just so utilitarian that doesn’t necessarily value beauty or values beauty as a, as a commodity.
There’s this writer named William Morris a Victorian, and I really love him, and he says, ‘Have nothing in your homes that are not useful, or that you do not consider beautiful.’ And I love that poem.
And that’s how I really feel. Like, I feel like art isn’t just a painting…but art is just, you know, a beautiful park people can go into. But I think people need to be filled with beauty.
…abandoned strip malls…that hurts my soul.
I think it is damaging for children to grow up in environments like that, in which people don’t even…they just think, ‘Well, as long as the kid has a roof over his head, he’s fine.’ No, children need beauty. They need poetry and music and art and dance. They need those things to be whole people.
I think it gives them a feeling that life is worth living, that life shouldn’t be thrown away, that they have a voice, that they can create something beautiful, that they can make the world more beautiful, that they’re not just a cog in a machine, that there’s something deeper and spiritual that moves the world, that can give their life meaning.
So many people in our educational system, unfortunately, now think STEM and testing, and this and that. And they don’t realize they need more than that. They need to experience joy, and joy comes from beauty.
You can’t tell me that a kid walking around a blighted environment of strip malls and out-of-business buildings where nobody mows the lawn, or whatever… Those kids know that they’re not valued by society.
If you don’t give children beauty, they understand that they’re not important. They understand that beauty is for rich kids.
And so all children need to be told they’re valuable by being shown beauty. That’s really, really important to me.
I love seeing people in the park because, you know, when my husband started working on the park, well meaning people would say, ‘Well you can’t put anything nice there because people will just rip it down, people will tear it down.’
There was just this sort of class implication there and a racial implication…I’ll just be honest.
He just put stumps in a circle, and kids would come up, and they would jump on the stumps and move the stumps around and play drums on the stumps and invent games with the stumps. You know, kids want to be inspired, and they climbed on the rocks, and they looked at the flowers. And they love those things.
You know, I think having an oasis in the city for people to go to, where everyone feels valued is really important. I think everyone needs to have a beautiful fountain to look at, to have their pictures taken next to for Christmas.
Everyone needs to have trees they can climb on and sit under and read under and to feel like they can escape the troubles of the world. So I think this park is really, really important to Macon. I think they should be all over. I think every community needs a park where people can go and unwind and relax.
And it’s been shown that it is psychologically healthy to be in nature.
You know the Japanese call it ‘nature bathing’ or ‘forest bathing,’ just walking in the forest. People need that. I love it. Forest bathing.
You have to have something go against the noise. It’s everywhere; it’s terrible. It’s so loud, and we don’t even notice it.
And I think people are scared of silence. That’s why when you go into a restaurant, there are ten TVs playing ten different shows everywhere. Because, God forbid we sit and have a conversation.
I talk with my students sometimes…they admit to me they have trouble talking to other students. It’s hard for them.
To sit in silence and think and let your mind get still and let your mind go where it wants to go…my students think I’m crazy. Because they’re always on their cell phones. They’re addicted to them.
I love teaching poetry. I loooove my students. I just adore my students…Sometimes I’ll say, ‘This is your assignment for lunch: Go and talk about whether you think you really can have more than one soulmate in life. That’s your lunch topic for discussion.’
They just laugh.
Yes. I think people do. I mean, I think I’ve found mine, and I don’t think there’s another one and I don’t think my husband has another one, but I think certain people do find more than one soul mate.
A daily ritual…saying prayers with my son, even though he’s thirteen, and he’s kind of growing out of it. I think it’s almost more important to my husband and me. Like, we love that ritual. And having dinner together…we have dinner together almost every night. We put away our phones, and we talk. Just having that time when we’re together is really important.
Ritually, every single night I sit in the same chair with a piece of chocolate, and read a book. Dark chocolate.
I love my life, despite…being realistic about it.
I’m not somebody who will to everything to stay alive. If there comes a point in my life where I can’t read a book or drink a cup of coffee or breathe, I don’t…that’s it. That’s my time. I don’t want to even live like that. I want to live a life that is rich and fulfilling.
There are days when my friends die that I just think, ‘I can’t go on. I can’t make it. I don’t want to make anymore friends because I don’t want to lose anymore friends.’
It’s really, really emotionally draining and exhausting. And I am not going to say it’s not easy or there aren’t days…there are days when I just feel cursed, and I feel really angry.
When I’m feeling angry, I write. Or I listen to music. Or I meditate. Or I go for a walk. I think feeling angry is good in that it makes you act. It makes you write your senators about healthcare reform and reach out to other people who need help.
But I think too much anger is unhealthy.
So, there’s a constant balance between…again, it’s acceptance. I’m not in denial…and I am not in total despair. You balance happiness and despair. You acknowledge the suffering. And you acknowledge the happiness.
You have to do both of those things. If you do one without the other, you’re not living fully.
So, if I’m not acknowledging my suffering and my pain…and I am not acknowledging my happiness then I am not living a true life. So both of those things have to happen.
I’m disappointed that I couldn’t have another child. And, ummm…sometimes I feel this very superficial disappointment that I didn’t get famous, or I didn’t publish a book that won an award, a major award…I wish I had, sort of made a bigger splash in the world.
But, I feel really happy with how my life has turned out. I feel I’ve done what I wanted to do. I’ve stayed true to my values and what I believe in. I don’t really have major disappointments in life. The disappointments I have are very fleeting.
I think I’m lucky about that because I have parents who always told me to be true to myself and not to worry about material success and not to worry what people thought of me. And I really took that to heart, and I think that has kept me…even in this cursed, miserable set of circumstances I have been put in…I don’t see the point of disappointment.
To me, it’s a useless emotion.
You are where you are. So accept it. If you have a disappointment. Feel it, and then let it go. What’s the point? What a way to live.
You don’t have to accept those assumptions about success and failure.
My perfect day would be being in the Alps in Switzerland with my husband and my son and my mom and my sister, just sitting on top of the mountain, looking down. Just quiet and peaceful and beautiful, and we all love each other, and nobody is arguing. And we have a piece of cake. Some fruit cake, plum cake or apple cake with whipped cream and a coffee. To me peace is happy, just love and peace. That’s my perfect day.”