don’t mind me. i’m just poking around.

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Avert your eyes. As it applies to hair, make-up and “fashion,” this 51-year-old poet has dipped her toe into if-it’s-comfortable-wear-it mode.

Into if-you-like-it go for it mode.

Into if-it’s-fun-why-not mode.

Into so-what-if-you’re-a-little-fluffy mode.

I would like to say it started midsummer when I walked home from a day at my in-laws’ pool, showered and got “dressed.” But instead of putting on shorts and a t-shirt or tank top, I slipped back into my cover-up: a knit, sleeveless, short black dress. No, not *that* little black dress. Not the one of cocktail parties and early 90s movies like Pretty Woman. No, no, no. Dear Reader, this #OOTD occupied a space in dangerous proximity to a muumuu, or — as it was called where I grew up — a house dress.

And just like that I saw myself clearly.

Only it wasn’t anything like we imagine these seeing-ourselves-clearly moments to be. There was no heroic journey. No magnificent beauty. No astonishing achievement. Instead, I saw myself clearly becoming a thing I’d loathed as a teenager: I was someone wearing a house dress.

And it was, to my surprise, glorious.

I felt cool, not in the hip sense of cool but in the breezy, more literal, more practical, air-can-circulate-around-all-my-bits sense of cool. Thankfully, in that moment, I remembered seeing social media posts this summer or last summer (what is time?) from two poets I love and adore — Emily Mohn-Slate and Gabrielle Calvooressi — in defense of the caftan. Suddenly, I was a poet of a certain age blossoming into who she was meant to be.

I was so brave in the comfort and privacy of my own home.

The experience was not unlike My Initial Discomfort With CrocsTM, so maybe *that’s* where my fashion downfall began? A couple of years ago, manipulating my affection for fuzzy slippers into adoption of the terrible plastic shoes, Santa gifted me a pair of fleece-lined Crocs. They were, to my disappointment, amazing. Still, I only wore them at home until, in a moment of weakness (or drunkenness?), I bought some all-terrain Crocs online in dark gray with lime green soles. I now wear them, without shame and to the delight of poet friend Jason Crane, in public. Often in 4X4 mode.

Sometimes, we are unrecognizable to ourselves.

It’s also possible that I gave up any pretense of fashion sense during the stay-in-my-pajamas lockdown months of the pandemic or amid a dozen other small midlife concessions, like trading underwire for bralettes, leaning into reading glasses, giving into my curly, frizzy hair (far left photo below) or contending with the bazillion pounds I’ve gained since March 2020.

But I think it’s more than that. Even though I’ve started to chip away at that weight gain (10 lbs down/gone this summer, thank you very much), I am, in so many ways, thinking about comfort over appearance. What would it mean to let go of the idea of pretty or sexy or cute? I may be ready to explore that shit like Mars. Like an expedition. A treacherous (?) adventure.

My most recent steps on this new planet look a little bit like this: I’ve acquired a wide, flowy black jumpsuit (with pockets, of course; middle photo above). I plan to pair it — yes, only in the confines of home for now — with several oddball shirts from my closet.

My husband hasn’t even seen this jumpsuit-caftan hybrid. He is, for now, blissfully unawares of his wife’s latest evolution/incarnation. God bless the internet where we confess things to strangers.

What do I have left to prove?

Of course, for me, bravado always includes a fair amount of bluster. I’m not as brave as others seem to think. I can say I love dressing like a weirdo or a chonk or an old lady, but that’s only as long as there are no unflattering photos of me on the interwebs. I’m incredibly vain and carry more than my share of shame. My body image is still under serious construction, which is to say my visual lens hasn’t caught up with — and may never catch up with — my philosophical one.

Very well then, I contradict myself. Multitudes, darling.

And just like that I see myself clearly.

Wherever you go, there you are.

But this is where my gym comes in. It swoops in with an alternate POV when I doubt myself, and I’m trying to embrace it. Despite the COVID-era weight gain and despite the perimenopause belly and bloating, I have not thrown in the towel when it comes to this body. I may not be asking it to fit a particular mold, but there are still things I’m asking it to do. It just happens to turn out fewer and fewer of them have anything to do with being pleasing or unoffensive to others.

For 45+ minutes at least 4X/week, I’m focused on sweat, strength and mobility, and I’m so grateful to have found a home at a gym — yes, they do exist! — where it’s about my personal best and nothing else. It’s a place where there is (miraculously!) no other noise. When I am there, the only chatter in my head is GO GET IT. And I do. I lift heavy weights. I push past boundaries. I get uncomfortable and see it as a source of strength.

Sometimes, we are unrecognizable to ourselves.

I learn there that I am stronger and more capable than I know.

Of course, I forgot all that recently when I had my second colonoscopy. I melted down like I haven’t melted down in a bunch of years. The appointment coincided with an influx of hormones, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I lost it for a full week. I indulged in the kind of sobbing that alarms everyone around you, the kind that leaves you with a hangover the next day and the next.

To be fair (to be fairrrrrr), I lost my mom in 2009 to colon cancer. She got sick when she was 52 and died at 56. As a result, I’m equal parts proactive and freaked the fuck out when it comes to these screenings. I’m now about the age she was at those crucial milestones, and I got in my head about What It All Meant. Certainly, I told myself (despite exercise and diet: primarily whole foods, plant based — partly for the Earth and partly as a measure intended to ward off disease), this was my personal cancer “gotcha” moment.

I’m happy to say I’m healthy for now. And based on risk/s, I can remain on my current 5-year cadence for “surveillance.” I can’t and won’t promise total meltdown won’t happen again next time, though.

I recognize this about myself.

Another thing I recognize: All this talk about seeking comfort in a different kind of wardrobe or sense of self is likely a sign that something new is making its way through me. I’ve learned over the years that these feelings of agitation precede a big change. Not metamorphosis, exactly, not in the caterpillar –> butterfly sense but a kind of walking through fire. There’s something of importance on the other side.

And so I’m trying to remind myself of instances when I’m already on the other side. For example, check out this walk down memory lane 👇

With Denise Duhamel (Louder Arts
workshop New York City, 2009)

In 2009, when I was still a baby poet, I took a leap (and an Amtrak) to attend a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City. It was one of the first times I’d invested in myself as a poet, one of the first times I dared to believe I could be a poet and do the things poets do. Looking back, it’s a clear building block to everything that came after.

The training we do at the gym reminds us that challenging ourselves consistently is the key to all kinds of gains. This is, of course, also true in writing and submitting/publishing. We can age (and do). We can change our hair and clothes. We can be in our feelings. But what matters is that we show up. And dare to test our limits.

And that brings me to my ongoing celebration of writing/creative wins big and small for 2023. Aside from keeping up with morning pages (mostly), reading and making some notes, I haven’t been able to write anything since I finished my Gertie manuscript in May. This makes these wins even more important to note.

Summer Wins #1 & #2 / I celebrated the launch of Sarah Freligh’s new flash collection A Brief Natural History of Women (Small Harbor Publishing) and accompanied Jill Crammond to Caffe Lena for her featured reading from her debut poetry chapbook Handbook for Unwell Mothers (Finishing Line Press). In both cases, it was such a pleasure to watch fellow writers’ ideas and dreams be born and then to hold their books in my hands. So powerful! (Pro tip: Surround yourself with amazing talent, you guys. It matters.)

Summer Win #3 / As of publishing this blog post, all 10 or so of the packets of individual poems I’ve sent out in recent months have been rejected. I’m putting this in the win column because 3/4 of them included encouragement/invitation to send work when the pubs open again. And it’s in the win column because I’m continuing to send them out.

Summer Win #4 / This one is a little more nuanced than the others but here it is: I’m keeping the faith about my manuscript and continuing to send it out, too. It would be easy to see the rejections of individual poems from the manuscript as a bad sign, but that just doesn’t ring true. It’s a strong manuscript, and it’s part of a critical and ongoing conversation about what it means to be a woman (mother, daughter, wife, lover, etc.) in the world, to find your voice and befriend yourself… even when — or maybe especially when! — you let your hair go wild and wear a really wide jumpsuit.

Maybe I wear what I like *and* write what I like, “acceptance” be damned?

In both cases, I get uncomfortable and see it as a source of strength.


  1. An engaging essay that I relate to so many ways, from the caftans and loose pants to bralettes and taking care of my body and health vs trying to sculpt my muscles. Good for you for lifting weights! I really need to at my age—62!

    Congrats for your summer wins, too 🙂

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