The Shot and The Draw

I still remember the feeling of my first heartbreak. I’m not talking about –you’re over there and I’m way over here-heartbreak, I’m talking about the heartbreak sitting right here on my chest, the looking over my shoulder, breathing in my ear heartbreak. The heartbreak that holds you and never lets go.

I’m thirteen and bus 62 is a cauldron of teen angst. Some boys light cigarettes and hang out of the partially descending windows, some girls scribble the names of bad boys onto books, others carve words into the skin of their ankles, and the driver drives, ignorant to it all. I initially sit near the front, but am soon pulled to the back by older girls and the promise of their friendship. Tammy is mentally unstable, and even at 13 I can clearly identify this trait. She wants to be my friend, yet threatens to beat the shit out of me on a daily basis. This has been happening for months.

61634_457140993544_7192246_n

Me at 13. Quite the fox, I might add.

Today, she and her crew call me to the back for some arbitrary reason. Maybe they ask to borrow money, or need someone to laugh at. Those are the details that fall into the street with the traffic, because at this point Ollie is all I can see. A regular, brown-haired boy sitting behind Tammy and her friends. He’s cute enough, with a nice smile and a freckled nose. But I can’t recall what drew me to him. I only remember the after. It’s like I can remember the shot but not the draw.

Here is what I do remember:
The autumn light in his hair and on my shoulders and the way he smelled, like motor oil and Marlboro Reds, like freedom to a 13-year-old girl whose parents won’t let her leave the front porch with a boy. He smiles, he calls me something cute like “sweetie” or “honey,” and I melt into my seat and burn with the sun against the cheap upholstery.

Ollie was older than me. 15-which is an entire universe away in teenage years. He knew things I didn’t, like how to get a homeless guy to buy us beer, how to light a smoke with a match in a wind storm, and which woods were the safest to drink in. His parents were absent, I think, I don’t remember ever really seeing them. His house seemed full of mismatched car parts and brothers. He went to school like one goes to church, sporadically at best, and only if it was really important. But he protected me, held me against him in the storm of middle school drama. When Tammy and her friends started upping their game and really scaring me, Ollie was there. He threatened anyone who looked at me wrong. He  beat the shit out of anyone and everyone who bothered me. To a 13-year-old girl, this was kryptonite.

Here is what I do remember:
His hands, calloused and small, traversing my virgin skin. A worn mattress, red curtains, and Ozzy Osborne. I have lied to my mother. I have lied to this boy. I have lied to myself. I have lied to everyone. The candle becomes a nub and I bury myself under his worn blankets. It will be decades before I dig my way out of that cave. I imagine the 14-year-old ghost of me forever roaming that small basement.

We broke up, and some of that is fuzzy. He left me, I can’t remember if it was for another girl or if a defect of mine inevitably rose to the surface.

At 37, I can confidently say that there was no reason on earth to love him the way that I did. But at 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, 28 and all of those years in between, loving Ollie was as natural as breathing. At 26, 27, obese and stuck in a bad marriage, that feeling-being tucked tightly against Ollie’s chest-was a feeling I’d swim back to over and over again and hope to drown.

Fat Girl, Skinny Launch Party!

This weekend was an author’s dream weekend. On Saturday, I was invited to sit in on a book club that had chosen my book, Fat Girl, Skinny as their monthly read.  It was amazing to hear these women talk about their lives in connection to my story of weight gain and weight loss. It reinforced an important lesson I learned while writing my memoir: body image is a personal and private issue.

It was also a really unique experience visiting a book club as the author. I walked into a room full of people who knew the most intimate details of my life. I was a nervous wreck, yet I felt at ease and welcomed-heck, even embraced-by them only minutes after arriving. It was a moving experience, and one I will treasure.

Sunday, I celebrated Fat Girl, Skinny‘s publication at a launch party. The response was amazing. Love filled that small room, and I was overcome with gratitude for those who came and showed their support. I’d like to share some pictures from the day. All photos were taken by Mindy Lipcavage Photography, owned and operated by my dear friend.

A Letter to My Followers

Friends,

It’s been a very busy week for me. I thought the hard part was writing the book-you know, the six plus years of revising and revising and revising…. Nope, the hard part is NOW- getting the book into the hands of you, my readers. I went with an Indie press mainly because I believe in this press, and felt loved and respected by its editor, the lovely Robin Stratton. The downside is that the system is set up to help the big publishers, and the little guys need to work extra hard at spreading our message!

So, I’m writing today to ask if you will consider purchasing a copy of Fat Girl, Skinny, the memoir I wrote about losing 100 pounds on Weight Watchers, and finding myself in the process. If you, my blog audience, order through my website, you can use promocode: Blog at checkout. You will receive free shipping PLUS your copy will be signed Just click on the “shop” tab here.

If you like the book, I hope you’ll consider giving it an Amazon review. Thank you for your continued support. The blog has over 1500 followers, and you have all been so supportive. I look forward to writing more and sharing my story with you.

PS. If you’re looking for the Kindle version, it’s right here.

Best,

Amye

Just Kids

I lost my beloved grandmother last month, and as part of trying to process what happened, I’m using some writing therapy to get through it. Forgive me the sentimentality.

Just Kids

While you were dying, I was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I had just started it, still knee-deep in her catholic upbringing when I first heard the word cancer. Patti’s own words started to blur together after that. Mary, crucifix, Brooklyn, I couldn’t crawl out of the haze. The nurses ticked in and out of your room like seconds, we barely noticed them. I told you about the cancer. I called your friends and told them, drove to your apartment and pulled the shades up and down twice a day, washed your clothes, checked your mail, read the tabloids to you, and waited. You do the dying, I’ll do the rest.

While you were dying, we talked about the weather, the Kennedy’s, the royal family, Bill Clinton, neighborhood gossip, and the University where we worked together-me a teacher, you a server in the cafeteria-seven years of education separating us. I forgot about the cancer occasionally, we both did.

While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all started like this one. Suddenly, I wanted to remember everything-the shift of my weight against your hip as I sat at your bedside, the cold of your hand, the sound of your labored breath, the creak of the bed rail, the beep of the IV, I hung onto all of it, wallpapered my brain with my last images of you and lived in that room for weeks.

The sun fell faster than it had in days, like it was dropping from the sky with no purpose. The weathermen talked about the cold snap. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had just become Robert Patti Bluestar, and you were gone. I couldn’t bear to read anymore. I imagine they still live at 160 Hall Street. I imagine Robert still stringing the beaded curtain and Patti still fanning through art books. Between the tattered black covers of their story is where you will die forever.

While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all ended like this one.

gram

20 Reasons to Consider an MFA

10thLogo_400x400This year marks the 10th anniversary of Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MA/MFA Program. I cannot believe it’s been six years since I have walked through those hallowed doors.  Wilkes has done many things for me, but perhaps the most significant is this: Wilkes made it okay for me to consider myself a writer.  No longer was writing a hobby, or something I wished I could do with my life, writing was real and present in my everyday life.  I’m always asked the same question: why an MFA? why Wilkes? My answer is never simple, and it won’t be simple today.

20 Reasons to Consider an MFA:

  1. Because at eleven years old, you told a lie in your writing that was believed deeply by the adults in your life.
  2. Because you invented Richard and Leona when you were twelve.
  3. Because you saw a story about a little girl, and that story started a fire deep inside of you that only a poem could snuff out.
  4. Because divorce and heartbreak and loss and grief and betrayal spill onto the page in exactly the same ink as love and happiness.
  5. Because Richard and Leona were high school sweethearts, you invented a difficult road ahead for them.
  6. Because men have loved you in the wrong ways, and words never have.
  7. Because everyone else in your family paints.
  8. Because in middle school you wrote love poems and sold them for $1 apiece.
  9. Because Richard could never accept his lot in life and gambled away the mortgage payment-which enraged Leona.
  10. Because when bad things happened to you, the answer was never in a bottle, but always in a journal.
  11. Because when you were thirteen, you believed with every fiber of your being that you could communicate with John Lennon, and the only boy in the world who believed you was another poet.
  12. Because Leona ran off with the pool boy, and you had not yet learned of cliché.
  13. Because you couldn’t afford therapy.
  14. Because you have few gifts to offer, words will have to suffice.
  15. Because New York City is beautiful at dusk, and only a poem can tell us so.
  16. Because you loved Richard and Leona, your first characters, even though they couldn’t love each other.
  17. Because life is hard, and words are easier.
  18. Because you have a story that lives inside of you, and if you don’t pay attention, it will claw its way out.
  19. Because Richard and Leona deserve a chance.
  20. Because everyone needs love, and you have learned how to give it…with words.

If you have a belly full of ideas and a heart bursting with stories, you will find no better canvas on which to experiment than the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.

A New House! A New Book! Woot Woot!

Shortly after Timmy and I started dating, he told me that his dream was to build his own house.  Now, that dream is happening!

We are on a shoestring budget.  We are building it from scratch by ourselves.  The only part of the process we are subbing out is the block (the foundation walls, hubs did the footer himself).  Anyway, the house and the move is going to be completely life-changing and traumatic for me.  I’m one of those that gets attached to place easily.  But, this is what Timmy and I have been working towards for the last five or six years.  We always knew we wanted to live in the country, and now we will.

As a poet, I am bursting.  I want to write about so much of it all at once.  The construction of this house is riddled in metaphor, from “bringing it out of the ground” to talking about hip roofs and roof lines.  He’s building us.  He’s building me.  Anyway, that’s how my brain works, and once I can get my head around some of these images, there will be poetry!!!!

Which, brings me to my next announcement!

My first full-length poetry collection, BANGS, will be out this fall with Big Table Publishing.  I’ll be touring a little bit, lining up some readings for that book, so check back in a while for that info.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the building process!

The land "before"

The land “before”

The Hole!

The Hole!

2014-06-20 18.57.57

Block!

Block!

Belly Shots

This selection originally appeared in PANK as part of their This Modern Writer series.  It is also the original version of the piece I performed for Scranton Storyslam, which you can see here. 

The women at Weight Watchers are tough.  We are a gang.  We are the Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings all rolled into one.  Sure, we look harmless enough.  Ten or fifteen portly women standing like preschoolers in a straight line outside the door, waiting for the loud mouthed receptionist to swing it open and begin to weigh us.  But make no mistake about it, if you cross us, if you come to a meeting already thin and complaining about five extra pounds that you have gained over the winter and need to lose before bikini season, we will cut you.  We will grab you with our fat little paws, roll you up into a tiny little ball, and kick your skinny ass out of here.  Because this is our turf.  This basement of the Electrical Workers Union, with its mundane pine paneling and shiny medicinal floors, belongs to us every Thursday night from seven until eight fifteen.  So, if you have less than ten pounds to lose, stay the fuck home.  Get a stomach flu, stick your finger down your throat,  or swallow a laxative, we don’t care.  Just don’t come here.

“Ugh, I feel gross,” says Sherri (with an i).

“You’ll be fine,” says a voice from somewhere in the front of the line.

“No, I had a brownie last night and I swear to God it went right to my ass.”

“No, it takes a while to catch up with you.  You’ll probably see it next week,” says a different voice.

“I hate this,” sighs Sherri.

I am late, as always, so I am in the back and can barely hear the riveting comparisons of this week’s sins.  The line snakes around the long thin corridor and is full of women sizing one another up.  We smile and greet one another like we are soldiers on the same side, but internally we are praying for one another’s demise.  I am nowhere near as big as she is.  Wow, I hope I don’t look like that.   We stand staring at one another, bound together reluctantly by overindulgence.

It is warm out and all of us have come dressed as close to naked as we can get without being arrested for indecent exposure.  I’m wearing tiny little knit shorts, a tank top, and socks with sandals.  You cannot stand barefoot on the scale, that is a rule.  You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud.  That is the other rule.  In my hands I hold my bible.  The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar and three Tootsie Rolls I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car.

Continue reading

On NOT Moving to Seattle

Six months ago, my husband, Timmy, and I put our house up for sale and planned to move across the country to Seattle.  There were many reasons, but among the most dire was the job situation.   We live in a small Pennsylvania town and the only four or five colleges within driving distance don’t even offer a Creative Writing program.  The trades, in which my husband works, are trending more and more towards using non-union labor.  Unions in general are disliked by most in this area.  So, moving somewhere more liberal, where unions and teachers are valued, seemed like a good plan.

And it was.

Only, we didn’t count on not being able to sell our home.  We didn’t count on me landing a (Surprise!) job.  And we didn’t count on Timmy getting called up for a major build (although, since it is a another casino related project, I probably should have expected it.)  So, since the job situation resolved itself, we didn’t move.  We aren’t moving.  We made the plans and my heart soared towards Seattle.  Then, we landed here, again.

I don’t know if we should have waited longer for the house to sell and left regardless of job offers.  I don’t know if our daughters would have been happier out there.  But I suspect, just maybe, that it would have been a great move.  You see, something else happened in the time it took us to prepare for the now non-move: I spent months researching schools, homes, and neighborhoods in Seattle. I sought out Seattleites, formed friendships, and fell in love with what I thought was going to be my new home.  And now that we are not going, everything feels flat.   I still find myself yearning for the move, second-guessing our decision to stay here, and wondering what life would have been like somewhere else.

In short, I wonder if Seattle aches for me like I ache for it.

The Movie Flight: Allow me to Ruin it For You.

(SPOILER ALERT)  I recently saw the movie, Flight, with Denzel Washington, and it stunned me.  Not because of its quality, which is okay but not great, but because of the storyline.  If ever there was a crystal clear example of addiction, this was it.  Denzel’s character, Whip, was grasping at life, trying to beat the addiction that threatened to engulf him.  And all I could see on that screen was…me.  I have suspected for years that I was a food addict, but never had it been made so obvious to me as this weekend as I watched Whip’s behavior which was so eerily similar.  Three key behaviors resonated with me.

1.  Purge.  No, not the kind where you’re bent over a toilet, but the kind of purge you perform often on Monday mornings where you think to yourself- This is it.  I’m done.  This diet starts today.  You then proceed to throw everything you deem as “junk food” into the garbage can, bag it up, and drag it out to the curb. Whip did the same thing with his booze, several times.  And each time he ended up at the liquor store within a few days time.

2.  Lie.  One of the cornerstones of the movie is Whip’s ability to lie about his addiction.  In fact, in one of my favorite lines of the film is when he tells his lawyer, “Don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, I’ve been doing it my whole life.”  I lied about my eating, all the time.  To myself, to my family, to perfect strangers.

3. Regret.  Like a drunk, I began many a days with a food hangover.  Knowing I gorged myself the night before, knowing I destroyed my diet and broke my resolve, I would feel AWFUL the next day.  Like I robbed someone of something intangible.  Like I blew something up inside of me.

I have made many excuses about my reluctance to face my food addiction.  I have made the argument that food addiction is very difficult to overcome since we must continue to eat, while alcoholics can completely avoid their substance of choice, we cannot.  But this is bullshit.  I am not addicted to all food, I am addicted to high sugar, high calorie, high fat foods.  I can eat things that do not contain these ingredients.  Just like alcoholics can drink iced tea, lemonade, soda, etc.

I have made many excuses, but when I saw that movie, I realized what my world looks like.  I realized what I’m doing.  I’m still doing, even though I’ve gained remarkable control over my eating, I’m still a long way from where I need to be.  I’m not sure how to get back, how to find solace.  But I think it’s time I face what I am.

I am a food addict.

Much more on this to come.

 

 

So I’m Writing a Book

So I’m writing a book about being overweight, about being diagnosed with PCOS, about thinking and believing that I would never have a baby.  I’m writing about how, ironically, I was the only woman in my family who ever wanted a baby, yet the only one who could not produce one.  And when I write these sentences and the narrative begins to take shape, the pain and misery of those years almost takes my breath away.  It’s as if writing this story has me standing on the edge of something and I’m ready to fall.  I remember those days when seeing my friends with their babies would make me want to barricade myself indoors for months.  I remember being divorced and feeling like I was nothing, less than a woman, less than a human even, because I was barren and fat.  And what did I have to offer anyone?

My story may not be extraordinary   My story may not matter to most. But I have to go forward and believe that it will matter to someone, even if that someone is just me.