"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Friday, April 30, 2010

Crisis Mode, or, Who's On Your Team?

"People often meet their destiny on the road they take to avoid it"--French Proverb

I came home Wednesday night completely spent. The end of the semester is wrapping up, and I've been pulling late hours or waking up at 3-4am to get my assignments done before work because it's the only quiet time I can manage to get with a toddler in the house.

Bleary-eyed and hunched over from the weight of my laptop bag I came in the door to be greeted by my best friend sitting on the couch. He took one look at me and said, "You look like a zombie." My thoughts exactly.

(AN ASIDE: I love friendships that are honest. I love friends that will tell you: "Yeah, you look like crap in those shorts, go change." It's real love, truly, to be honest with people).

After throwing my bag down, I made my way to the basement (where it sounded like a small war was happening because my husband was playing Halo with the surround sound on). He was just about to start a game when I sat down in front of him and began to bellow like my two year did last week after I told her she could not wear her playtime princess heels to bed.

Wretched and exhausted, I told him about the relentless conversation I'd been having in my head all week:

Bad Christeene: "Drop out. Drop out and write."
Good Christeene: "Who says you're even any good at it?"
Bad Christeene: "Who says you'll be a good librarian?"
Good Christeene: "You're 30k in debt. You've invested an entire year."
Bad Christeene: "She doesn't want to invest another minute."

Jason looked at me with those tender eyes that I love, his arms curled around my legs, and said "Forget the money. I will support you no matter what you choose." Right there. That moment. The two of us in the basement with the Halo intro blaring, was the moment I remembered why I married him, and not someone else.

I am fighting a war against myself. The good girl that everyone praises (including myself), wants a stable career. She wants multiple degrees so she can reassure herself and others that she is good enough, smart enough despite where she came from. She wants stainless steel appliances, an annual vacation to the beach, and a retirement fund. She wants respect and validation.

I have not registered for fall semester, and I am praying on whether or not I will. It's not that I don't love the library/librarians (libraries are my favorite places!), or that I think it's impossible to have a day job and be a writer (most do). But it's good to know, that no matter what I choose, I have amazing people on my team. And that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ways to Deal with Grief

It's been almost eight months since my father died. There are lengths of time where I'll wake up and be content to go about the minutiae of my day without blinking, without pausing to remember his booming laugh. But the other morning I found myself putting my makeup on in the car mirror (which is my haphazard commuting ritual), and I stopped in the midst of painting black liquid liner over my eyelid. His face. I'd seen a flash of it when I lowered my eyebrows in concentration: Lance's face in my face. And I began to sob in Atlanta traffic. It is these moments--small and unanticipated--that I have to learn to navigate, more so than missed holidays or birthdays. I've managed almost a year without him. So I offer a few suggestions for the left-behind:

1. Write really bad poetry: Write a letter you'll never send. Write anything, really. Grab a pen and rage and don't think while doing it. Don't worry about spelling, or phrasing, or logic, just metaphorically puke it up on the page.

2. Celebrate new life: Plant a garden, watch the sunrise, hold an infant, do something that literally or symbolically celebrates rebirth and regeneration.

3. Sun-worship: There is something restorative about sitting in the light. Go to the beach. Sit in a favorite window. Or grab a blanket, kick off your shoes, and revel in the grass like a bearded, Jerry Garcia-lovin hippie in Bolinas circa 1968 (without the psychotropic drugs, of course).

4. Pray: This sounds obvious, but it's grossly overlooked. Sometimes I howl "Save me, Save me, Save me God," and other times I just talk to God like he is my celestial guidance counselor. The point is to talk to God, honestly.

5. Have a (small) pity party for one: I think it's cathartic to feel sorry for yourself once in awhile. No, the world isn't fair. Yes, you were robbed. No, you can't change what happened. Yes, it's okay to be irritated that people expect you to be over grieving already, especially since your relationship wasn't great with your dad in the first place. Got it all out? Good. Pity party done.

6. Embrace Sleep: True grief looks a lot like narcolepsy. Grieving requires a lot metabolically, so it's perfectly acceptable to fall asleep in the middle of a crying fit. Take it as an opportunity to catch up on needed rest; somehow sleep is healing.

How do you navigate loss?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Summer Reading List

Summer is fast approaching. I can tell by the pool of saliva that forms in the corner of my mouth whenever I try to do something productive, and the yellow plague of pollen that coats my car and snaps at the back of my throat like a venus flytrap. Almost immediately after deciding NOT to take any classes this summer, my synapses fired up with images of insatiable nerd lust: fantasies of tearing through books, drunkenly, promiscuously. I cannot wait to get my little grubby hands on something of my choosing, something not required of me. Some books I'm considering for my upcoming fete de libre:

1. This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, Marilyn Johnson: The hippest shout-out to tattooed, politically/socially active, people-loving librarians everywhere. I can't wait to read something that makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the profession I've chosen despite a slouching economy and uncertain future.

2. Dear Darkness, Kevin Young: A book of poetry by a gifted and lauded poet, that I have the pleasure to work with at Emory. I have only recently discovered Kevin's poetry, and I'm eager to devour it. As a poet (self-proclaimed and revered only by my husband and gracious friends) I want to dissect Kevin's work with careful observation and childish awe. You know a writer is good when you want to take a scalpel to their work, peeling back the skin and slicing into the sinew.

3. 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, Lee Strobel: I'm beginning to write a book very similar to this, but centered on 20-somethings raised in Evangelical homes who are now unpracticing or non-Christian. Strobel's book, while more theological/apologetically-based than mine intends to be, will still prove a valuable read.

4. Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Beth Patillo: I met the editor for this book while at the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference, and her enthusiasm for this novel had me sold immediately. Even if I hadn't met her, the English teacher in me is drawn to the title; the twelve year old in me is drawn to the book cover. Aint it so pretty, y'all?

5. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie: I'm embarassed to admit that I have not read this novel. It is arguably Rushdie's most famous (or infamous) book to date, and I feel not only compelled but obligated to read it.

Do you have any suggestions for my summer reading list?

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm Ready to be a Mary

I'm tired of being a Martha. Being a Martha has gotten me nowhere. I have made Dean's lists and graduated with Honors only to be reminded that I am not the smartest fish in the pond, and sometimes not even in the pond at all. Sometimes I am beached and flailing wildly, eyes bulging, and full of panic. All of my egotistical little achievements really mean nothing.

I'm tired of being a Martha. Being a Martha has made me "spoiled and exhausted" to borrow a phrase from my dear friend and fellow writer Emily Osburne. I am tired of running after perfection: perfect grades, perfect career, perfect marriage, perfect body, perfect soul. I am incapable of all of the above.

What I want, more than anything, is a life of adventure and purpose. I want to throw away this notion of coordinating throw pillows and performance, always this exhaustive performance to prove that I am worthy of being loved by someone, anyone. This dance leaves me lonelier and lonelier.

I'm ready to be a Mary. I'm ready to sit and listen and leave myself open to criticism. I'm ready to trade what is good for what is best. I'm ready to depart from the tribe of normal and form my own partnership of extraordinary--Just me and Jesus. I'm ready to not only be saved, but also sanctified.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Who Are You?

At the writer's conference I recently attended, I sat down to pitch my book idea to an editor, and before I could lace up my tap-dancing shoes she asked me, "who are you?"

Now let me explain that she was not being cheeky, or rude in the least. It was a perfectly legitimate question. In fact, I've been trying to answer that very question for the last 26 years.

Successful writers generally have a tag of some sort. Stephen King is synonomous with Horror, and Danielle Steele with the trashy beach novel (my profound apologies to Steele readers clucking in disapproval, but let's face it--it's not exactly Jane Austen).

So who, then, is this Christeene person? I can't really place her in a neatly packaged, PR-ready, glossy-photo'ed, cataloged section of the bookstore just yet. But what I can say is this: I am a girl who dreams with a book in her hand, and a poem on her lips. I disdain sappiness, but crave romance. I take copious pictures of trees because I can find no other thing in creation (beyond human life itself) that amazes me more, except maybe the ocean. I am someone who loves God, and fails time and again, only to rediscover His unfailing grace.

I am a mother who packs extra socks but forgets the juice. I am someone who cares deeply about young people, especially the "scary ones," with tats and wild hair and adult mistakes; I want to mother them all, I want to shake my tiny little sausage fist in the faces of those who won't. I am someone who loves rainy days, and sad songs in French that I can't really decipher. I am full of dark desires and sanctified by Jesus. I am Christeene Renee Fraser (nee Alcosiba), half Hawaiian and half redneck--a girl who learned to gut fish, drink black coffee, and quote T.S. Eliot.