All About M.
The Short of It:
Primarily poet and intermittent essayist, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as SageWoman, Inlandia, Pulse, and Word Riot among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University.
For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirean delights me so. My gods are weird, I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life,” I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake, and I’m pretty sure I got into college via excellent recommendation and a series of fortuitous clerical errors.
When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer, working many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic, and presently, a professional yet irredeemable criticizer of young writers’ earnest work.
The Long of It:
(the infamous 100 line bio)
As an albino, I make up for my congenital lack of pigment by possessing a disarmingly dark sense of humor, which turned out a positive evolution as I was born a third generation denizen of the now bankrupt seat of southern California’s desert Inland Empire, which is notoriously lacking in any form of culture that isn’t somehow related to the railroad, Mormon pioneers, fallow orange groves, or the yearly migration of muscle cars to the remnants of Route 66. But because my blood was born here, for me it has been, oddly, an oasis of inspiration.
Both my maternal grandparents and all my great aunts and uncles walked the same neighborhoods, took their emergencies to the same hospital, and celebrated their teenage triumphs at the same high school I did. I have my grandfather’s San Bernardino High School football letter from 1939 sewn onto my cardinal letter-person’s jacket above my own 1995 letter for music. Some of my earliest, serious-effort poetry was inspired by things like the 1930’s graffiti I once found inside the antique bones piled into dusty boxes in the science classes’ back room. It might have been my own great uncle’s hand that exuberantly penned, “Class of ’37!” on the inside of a pelvic bone, and it might have been that the same landmark auditorium vestibule graced with a WPA mural where my grandmother snuck away from her classes to read, is the same vestibule where I snuck away from my classes to write.
When I was a freshman, I fell down two flights of stairs at the school, leaving traces of my blood on the dry ground hallowed to me by my progenitors’ footsteps. More inspiration came from the tumble and connection, more poetry, more ink making indelible impressions on the lives that were, and mine, as a poet, that was just beginning.
This is also the place where my first writerly quirks were nurtured. Uni-Ball pens are a fine example. I would buy a box or two of medium point at the beginning of every school year. The ink is dark, thick, smudgy, and gives excellent scratch-on-paper, making me feel as if I’m writing the way quill-wielding greats might have done. But more than that, those pens in high school, along with contraband sticks of sugared gum, were as good as cigarettes in prison for the trading of goods for favors. To this day, I’m unsure whether it’s the pens’ pleasing attributes, or a peculiar need for remembered teenage social wealth that drives me to distraction if I don’t have a full box handy at all times.
During that time, I also developed a lingering taste for seeking critique of my creative work from unlikely candidates. One exceptional biology teacher, Mr. Corigliano, immediately comes to mind, as does his sage writing admonition that serves me to this day. Examining a train wreck of a personal essay I had written and, with fingers pressed to his temple in the you’re-giving-me-a-headache position, he said “This isn’t Sartre, Michelle. I shouldn’t have to read it four times to understand what you’re trying to say.”
And even before that, when I was in elementary school, Ms. Waniki the security guard who watched over me as I waited to board the afternoon bus, and who was more adulation than admonition, used to clap when I twirled myself dizzy on the dead lawn reciting poetry I had written about the moon, or spiders, or the school’s malfunctioning sprinkler system. Today, when I get stuck with an unruly line or stanza, I twirl myself dizzy in my desk chair and clap when I almost fall out of it. I know there is more than a small part of me that goes on writing poetry so I have an excuse to keep doing that.
Before heading off to Nashville and Vanderbilt University, I won $350 for writing a smart-aleck essay on the San Bernardino City Water Department’s prompt, “Why is the wise use of water an important part of your daily life?” Once at Vanderbilt, however, my poetry professors, Kate Daniels and Mark Jarman, busted me down regularly for arrogant shenanigans like that. Kate Daniels tossing my work at me and saying, “If this is the best you can do, you need to find another class,” still reverberates in my ears, as do Mark Jarman’s stern cautions against poetic Yoda-speak, “love you, I do,” and, in that vein, his insistence that even in a formal verse class, we were to write in our own American English, leaving thee’s and thou’s to mothballs the way we might with our great grandparents’ clothing.
At the time I had no idea they are both the “real deal” kind of poets I dreamt of becoming, so I railed against their methods and consequently flailed in my writing until it dawned on my newly-adult self that maybe I did, in fact, have a thing or two still left to learn in this life. So I submitted, improved, and became a great lover of craft and polish. Then, in 2002, undoubtedly due to their influence, I won The Academy of American Poets prize for Vanderbilt University students and alumni.
Post college, still in Nashville, and still committed to a life in poetry, (which I’m sure my mother heard as “a life of poverty”), I started out in support of my habit by becoming a resume massager and ended up a freelance commercial writer primarily creating press kits, liner notes, and various other PR materials for country music hopefuls. When business was slow in that area, I supplemented my income by parlaying my ability to read tarot cards into giving “psychic” advice over the telephone via good listening skills and a genuine empathy for the people who called, not really in need of a psychic, which I am definitely not, so much as a kind ear to hear them. Ultimately, I gave up the otherworldly business because I felt I was using time I should have devoted to writing, to sell instead what I should have been giving away for free, and my conscience began eating me alive at night over it.
Nearly fifteen years in Nashville and one ill-fated, tornado of romance move to small town Oklahoma later, I find myself back in the desert Empire of my grandparents’ memories and my formation, starting over, a student again, spinning and clapping, stockpiling Uni-Ball pens, trying hard not to be Sartre, writing on the same desk where, in fifth grade, I wrote my first poem, gathering inspiration from the yellow hills that echo with coyote yips and gunfire, and still committed to this art and finding my place in it.