The Age of Solitude, Issue 1, April 2016

In December of 2014, I set out to share poetry with people via actual, physical mail. In 2015, I sent out 10 mailings to about 60 people. Over that span of time, I received mail from roughly 15 people, and texts and messages from many others involved in the project. In 2016, I vowed to keep the project up, but dropped everyone who did not engage with me in some format. The purpose of the project is, in part, that we are living in a time when we fake connections and I want to offer a chance to make real ones. Every month (or so) I send poetry that (hopefully) challenges my readers to reconsider a mindset held by society at large. I share some personal thoughts in addition to the poetry, and I have forged several excellent pen pals because of it. Above, you can see the new(s) format of the dispatch. I’ll be posting each on here a few weeks after sending them out via mail, but if you’d like to receive a physical copy and engage with me on a more personal basis, please email your physical address to therealbenshady@me.com. I promise not to show up at your door.

Looking forward, I would like to expand the dispatch to include the work of others. Reach out if you’d be interested.

You can follow on Twitter here.

In Spite Of Fear

Although my sister and I disagree about a lot—mainly which movies are worth sitting through (I say all; she says none)—we are likeminded when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Her 2014 resolution was “to do better than last year.”

Vague resolutions make it easy to define a year as successful. If you resolve to “exercise,” then you could easily call walking to and from your car a good year (not that I have done this myself).

In Spite Of FearIn the same vein as my sister, I have made a vague but meaningful resolution for 2015: I will live in spite of fear rather than living in fear.

I tend to undermine myself by downplaying my dreams to others. It is an easy defense mechanism that I have practiced subconsciously since childhood. On the surface, people see my passion for writing as a mere hobby because that’s exactly how I paint it. I wrote about this earlier in the year, but I have since decided to take real, measurable steps toward reversing that tendency.

I fear that my writing is not good enough to be read by others. I fear that I write and write and write and that it is not worthy of sharing. I fear that someone is going to rip my writing apart and that my skin won’t be thick enough to handle it. I fear that I will share the wrong thing one day and lose the small list of followers I have built over the last two years.

This year I started the slow process of hurdling over those fears by posting blogs more regularly. It may seem small or insignificant, but I used to share my writing very irregularly due to a little voice in my head always telling me, “You’re not good enough.” Although the voice still taunts me, I quiet it a little more each time I click ‘publish’.

Despite this progress, I still live in fear of chasing a dream I have had for many years. I want to spend 2015 actively living in spite of that fear (because a fear doesn’t just vanish like an easily-swayed ghost). I want to acknowledge my fear, stare it down, and decide to live anyway. I want to stop running from my fears, or standing stagnant, and trudge forward.

So, here goes… something.

I have been working on a book of poems for a year. I have showed some of the poems to two trusted friends who I knew would give me thoughtful criticism without destroying my self-esteem. I keep revising, rewriting, and rehashing ideas. I daydream about sharing them with others, then laugh about it minutes later.

It’s time to live in spite of fear.

All of the poems center on a theme of the future our world is headed toward—from technological advances and my fear of their disadvantages to modern romance and the increasingly lonely culture we live in.

For months I have tossed around how to share the poems. I wanted to use technology as a medium for sharing in order to show that the very thing I question is still necessary to my purposes.

Then I read Sherry Terkel’s wonderful book Alone Together, which talks about how and why “we expect more from technology and less from each other.” In it, she writes about the weight that many people still place on receiving physical letters in the mail. She talks about how she cherishes her mother’s letters, but worries that her daughter will not have such mementos in the age of technology.

And with that, I decided that I want to mail my poems as letters. It is a strange idea, and it may flop, but I am going for it. I will send a monthly dispatch that includes poems, unique artwork, and other random goodies like short stories or my music—another passion of mine.

Here is what I hope to accomplish with this project:

1. I want to share my passion as an active pursuit to live in spite of fear and not in fear.

2. I will hopefully receive some feedback—both encouraging and challenging.

3. People will enjoy receiving something personal in the mail each month.

4. Some people may feel compelled to mail me back, maybe with passions of their own, letters they feel like writing, or other positive, personal interactions I can’t possibly dream of yet. In an over-connected world, it would be nice to share some smaller, realer connections with others outside of the social media realm. Basically, I want to bring back the pen pal in 2015.

5. Surprising revelations I won’t know about until they happen because this project is an open-ended, malleable venture.Pen Pal

If you would like to be part of this quaint little project, I would love for you to take this journey with me. It is absolutely FREE. I don’t want this to be about money—just idea-sharing and personal connection. Send me an email at therealbenshady@me.com with your home address (I promise I won’t show up unannounced), and each month I will send you a small dispatch of poems and the occasional CD, short story, or yet-to-be-thought-of idea.

Will you help me live in spite of fear in 2015? Can I help you do the same?

Same Old Story

I wrote this poem for my students before saying goodbye for the summer. A video of my performance for one class can be found here: 

you were born into a story you had no hand in writing
before you got here
people already thought a particular way about
your race
your sex
your potential abilities
the money your parents made: that was part of your story
the way people looked at you when they saw
your clothes
your house
your hygiene
and your education was based on how people predetermined
people like you turn out
they didn’t want to leave you behind
but they didn’t want you to get ahead
so instead they created a home for you inside of a box
and gave you just enough light to make you think you could see
and just enough air to make you believe you were breathing
it wasn’t a scheme
it wasn’t a plot
it was simply a way for them to keep contained what they couldn’t comprehend within their brains
you can blame them
but they, too, were born into stories they had no hand in writing
born into families that raised them to believe, “we are okay,
and everyone else is other.
we are right, and everyone else may be right as well,
but less so.”
instead of blaming them,
ask yourself how well you fit inside the box you’ve been placed in
if you have the audacity,
step outside the box and read the label
and ask yourself, “is this me?”
another way to phrase this is,
“who am I?
and who gets to decide?”
are the names
young
white
male
probably protestant
college-educated
economically privileged
heterosexual
above any other name?
do societal norms get to dictate who gets to succeed?
and if I am different then that, then it must not be me?
you have been told that you are a product of your environment
but you were also born with feet to walk away from your environment
and create a new one
born with a voice to speak and say who you are not
born with hands to create and point to what you are
and true, there are those will try to silence you
and too often they will succeed
they will block the paths you choose to walk on
cut the mic you wish to speak from
tie the hands you try to create with
and too often the story you had no hand in writing
will end without your pen ever reaching the page
the multiple choice world didn’t like that you couldn’t fit your intelligence
within a, b, c, or d
so they failed you because you are “none of the above”
they gave you 26 lines and said, “write within the box.”
but you have an infinite amount of thoughts that cannot be captured
by factory-processed prompts
so they denied your college apps
your job apps
your improbability didn’t add up
so they kept you inside the box
that they might second guess
that might give them guilt
but it just makes sense
because they, too, were born into stories they were not invited
to edit or throw out
just told, “stick with the status quo.”
so they stuck with it
and stuck you to it
and all of us turn the gears of a machine that manufactures products of
poverty
racism
classism
sexism
environments we cannot survive in
but one day
while you were on break
at your minimum wage job
after days with no sleep
weeks with no relief
and years with no peace
you found a pen
and you checked your shoulder like you were trained
but for once no one was watching
and you didn’t have paper but you had a handkerchief
that you use to wipe the sweat away
so you used it to wipe the slate
and you wrote a story about a father
who cares for his daughter
despite what the world says about
fathers who look like him
and you couldn’t wait to wake your daughter
and tell her the story
and the next day
she found a paintbrush
and she created something that looks like nothing to no one
but you
and now it hangs in a frame in the hallway
because you said, “the fridge is no place for a masterpiece.”
and the next day she whispered the secret to her friends
about a story we weren’t told
a story so bold
that now they can barely hold their tongues
when handed tests that say nothing about them
and everything about the lie we were handed
and commanded not to change
but the truth finds its way through time
and fights its way through lies
and now there are boys and girls of every
color, shape, and size
age, orientation, and status
who tell the story to each other
and weigh what it means for them
and tell it in a different way
because they are becoming acutely aware of the radical idea
that no one can tell their story who is not holding the pen
one of them is your president
some of them are your teachers
all of them are your children
and all of us
are coming to check our stories out of your library
and never return them
because they were never yours to begin with
right now we are ripping the pages and adding new ones
we are skimming history and laughing at the way things used to be
we are creating entirely new ways of telling the truth that
our story is our story
and the only way to be a part of it is to understand
that before we got here
there was a story we had no hand in writing
but after we leave
it will never be the same