Quote for the Day: November 14th, 2021

In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.

Alice Walker

You know how sometimes you come across a quote or a line in a book while you’re reading or even hear a lyric in a song on the radio while you’re on your way to work and it’s like the stars align? You feel like the universe sent you those words because it knew you’d need them at that precise moment.

You feel like the universe sent you those words because it knew you’d need them at that precise moment.

Well, that’s how I felt when I first came across today’s quote. Lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure because I can’t be normal despite my best efforts. My therapist and I can’t quite find the right configuration of meds to make me not be a basket case all the time. None of my clothes fit and I’m continuing to gain weight despite all my work to curb that. The only clothes I have that fit me at the moment (aside from underwear and socks) are like three pairs of pants and my branded company shirts I wear to work.

It does, however, make me want to cry and scream and curse every time I go into my closet to try to find something to wear and find that clothes which were loose on me just six months ago are now so tight I can’t breathe in them.

Now, don’t misread me. I do not have a problem, aesthetically speaking, with being a fat person. I don’t think I’m disgusting and I’m not ashamed of the shape of my body. It does, however, make me want to cry and scream and curse every time I go into my closet to try to find something to wear and find that clothes which were loose on me just six months ago are now so tight I can’t breathe in them.

Now, I’ve not made a huge Facebook announcement coming out as gay or anything, but pretty much everyone that’s important to me knows.

Also, and I didn’t think I was going to say this here, but I’ve been really struggling with feeling like I’m accepted by certain members of my family. Now, I’ve not made a huge Facebook announcement coming out as gay or anything, but pretty much everyone that’s important to me knows. I’m out to all of my employees and I’m blessed to work for a company that’s extremely queer-friendly. All of my friends know and it’s probably been more than five years since I first came out to my parents.

Life doesn’t always allow us to be the most authentic version of ourselves with all people at all times.

But as Taylor Swift once sang in “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, therein lies the issue. I never imagined being out in the first place so when I came out I wanted to be out out. Like drag show out. But here’s a hard truth: Life doesn’t always allow us to be the most authentic version of ourselves with all people at all times. So ever since I first came out to them I’ve been somewhat of a Hokey Pokey Homo: You put your right foot in (the closet), you put your right foot out (of the closet), you put your right foot (back) in (the closet, because you’re acting far too gay to be palatable to everyone), and you shake it all about (to “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga like the sad queer you are). I bought a purse a month or so ago that was super cute and it was on sale so why wouldn’t I buy it? and I thought my dad was going to have a stroke. To his credit, he didn’t say anything negative to me but I could still tell it made him uncomfortable.

That’s right, I’m contorted, bent in weird ways, and I’m still beautiful. And so are you. Make the world reckon with you on your terms.

So, if you’re still with me here: (A) depressed and anxious; (B) fat; and (C) super duper gay. And I’m going to add another one: (D) PERFECT. That’s right, I’m contorted, bent in weird ways, and I’m still beautiful. And so are you. Make the world reckon with you on your terms.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

All Aboard the ARC: I Love You, Call Me Back: Poems by Sabrina Benaim

I Love You, Call Me Back: Poems by Sabrina Benaim

***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Sabrina Benaim has gifted us with a collection that is both a blueprint for grief and a roadmap to help us find our way out of it.

With I Love You, Call Me Back, Sabrina Benaim has gifted us with a collection that is both a blueprint for grief and a roadmap to help us find our way out of it. It’s not an easy task to meld hope and despair together in the same poem without coming off as maudlin or worse, melodramatic, but Benaim manages to do so with the grace and panache of an assured stylist.

Her voice rings so clear and true that while reading her new collection I felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend, one with whom I could share my highest hopes and biggest fears. After the past nineteen months of dealing with the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, finally someone is saying that everything is not okay, but it will be eventually. And in the meantime, we can hold space for small joys, of which I count this poetry collection as one of them.

I Love You, Call Me Back: Poems was released by Plume, a division of Penguin Random House, on October 19th, 2021 and is now available to purchase wherever books are sold.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

All Aboard the ARC: Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems by Warsan Shire

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems by Warsan Shire

***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Like all of Shire’s work, this collection explores themes of immigration, Black womanhood, Muslim identity, mental health, and sexual violence.

Herein the body is more than its corporeal form. It is a border wall limned with barbed wire, a boat tossed on a treacherous sea between nations, a forest aflame, a line of demarcation, a political statement, a war zone, a site of both refuge and terror, a haunted geography, and a mother’s scream, beautiful and terrible. Herein is a voice forged in fire. Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head is perhaps 2022’s most anticipated poetry collection and I for one can say it was worth the long wait.

Like a lot of people, my first experience with Warsan Shire and her poetry came vis-à-vis the visual album for Beyoncé’s Lemonade. For those of you who haven’t watched Lemonade, it is composed of eleven chapters, corresponding with the first eleven songs on the album with names like “Intuition” (for “Pray You Catch Me”) and “Redemption” (for “All Night”). In the interstitial spaces between songs, Beyoncé recites pieces of poetry and prose by Warsan Shire. The British-Somali wunderkind, then relatively-unknown outside of the U.K., was catapulted into the spotlight.

Immediately after listening to Lemonade, I bought Shire’s 2011 chapbook, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, which I’ve read several times now. In 2015, she released a chapbook through flipped eye publishing called Her Blue Body, and if you have a copy then you’d be well-advised to hold on tight to it for dear life because I’ve been scouring the Internet for years in search of a copy. I once saw a used copy online for more than $1,000, and if I’d had the money I’d have bought it no questions asked.

Like all of Shire’s work, this collection explores themes of immigration, Black womanhood, Muslim identity, mental health, and sexual violence. I can’t imagine anyone reading it and leaving it unaffected if not completely transformed. Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head is not to be missed.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems is due to be released by Random House Trade Paperbacks on March 1st, 2022 and is now available to preorder wherever books are sold. Her previous chapbook, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, is available to purchase wherever books are sold.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

A Little Motivation

My mental health has been total garbage lately. And I know I’m not the only one. In fact, most of the people I know who ride the struggle bus now need a whole garage full to carry their mental baggage.

Just like Ivermectin won’t prevent or treat COVID-19, magic crystals and appropriating other cultures’ spiritual practices won’t prevent you from being human.

Let’s be honest, most self-help stuff out there is nothing more than a pen full of prosperity gospel pigs wearing Instagram influencer lipstick. It’s nonsense. No matter how many mindfulness exercises you do while sipping Evian water and inhaling spritzes from your essential oil diffuser, sometimes your mental health is just crap. Just like Ivermectin won’t prevent or treat COVID-19, magic crystals and appropriating other cultures’ spiritual practices won’t prevent you from being human.

You are not worth less just because your brain doesn’t produce the right configuration of chemicals when you need them. You are not broken. I guess what I really want you to know is that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay if all you do today is make it through to the end. Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle. A unicorn doesn’t concern itself with the opinions of a jackass. Remember that.

It’s okay if all you do today is make it through to the end.

And on the bright side, when all else fails, you can just do as Beyoncé said and “Middle fingers up, put ‘em hands high”. I promise you’ll feel better.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Quote for the Day: October 15th, 2021

Note to self: I can allow painful feelings to visit me without allowing them to move all their shit into my guest room, leave their gross dishes in my sink, and not pay rent.

Emily McDowell (@emilyonlife)

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Poem for the Day: October 12th, 2021

The Orange Bottle by Joshua Mehigan

The clear orange bottle was empty. 
It had been empty a day.
It suddenly seemed so costly
and uncalled for anyway.

Two years had passed. They had passed
more or less the way years should.
Maybe he’d changed. Or maybe
the doctors had misunderstood.

It was June. The enormous elm tree
was green again, and the scent
of   hyacinth reached through the window
and followed wherever he went.

And the sky was the firmament!
His life was never better.
Each small white spotless cloud that passed
was like a long-wished-for letter.

But then he remembered his promise.
It came like a mild cramp,
and it sat there all day in the back of   his mind
like a gas bill awaiting a stamp.

He saw three faces that Sunday,
mother, sister, niece,
all with the same kind, brown, scared eyes
that brought him no peace.

The sidewalk sparrows were peeping.
His whole house smelled like a flower.
But he remembered his promise.
The drugstore said one hour.

Back home again, he was tired.
The label said caution, said warning.
He left the clear orange bottle
on the lip of   the sink till morning.

The insert said warning, said caution.
The insert said constipation.
It said insomnia, vivid dreams,
and hypersalivation,
and increased urination,
and a spinning sensation.

It also said night sweats, and
agranulocytosis,
and strongly suggested a full glass of   water
be drunk with all doses.

The insert said all this,
the insert he never read.
But he didn’t have to read it
to know what it said.

The bedroom was calm with moonlight
and the breeze through the screen was cooling.
Through the elm leaves the shivery light on the wall
came like quicksilver pooling.

But   just before five, something woke him —
a close whisper — or maybe a far cry —
and the bedroom was queasy with light the color
of   lapis lazuli.

He lay there listening hard
till six, till seven, till eight    ...
At nine he remembered the bottle.
But nine, nine was too late.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the pill.
By ten he was feeling restless,
with a whole day left to kill.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Yes, don’t!” cried the medication.
And the bright yellow morning seemed suddenly edged
with a shady fascination.

Why should he go to his workplace?
Who was his supervisor?
He had a sickening feeling
that he was becoming wiser.

His room filled up with interest.
He had begun to think!
He thought of the knives in the kitchen
and the bottles under the sink.

He thought as he switched the stove on
or stood at his shaving mirror,
or reached for his belt in the wardrobe.
Thinking made things clearer.

Even the bedroom window,
the open window full of sun,
continually hinted
at something that should be done.

But he was crooked and useless.
He was a piece of shit.
And so, as everyone knew he would,
he failed to go through with it.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the drug.
Just then, the telephone rang.
Just then, he ripped out the plug.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the poison.
And the door of   the house creaked open,
and the cellar door lilted and murmured,
and the garden gate groaned and yawned
and let a little noise in.

There, just outside his window,
lurked life like a cheap cartoon.
He shut the sash, locked it, and checked it,
and checked it all afternoon.

He lowered the blinds on that world,
no longer an agent of   it,
but then, with one finger, pulled down a slat
and set his eye above it.

At first it was grimly amusing,
at last it was grimly grim,
to watch all those hunched, hurried people,
who made like they weren’t watching him.

The neighbors were thinking out loud.
They knew he was no fucking good.
So he slumped on a stool in the corner
like a bad little snaggletooth should.

They called him a dirty pig, and laughed,
and said he shouldn’t exist.
Sometimes they made a tsking sound,
or oinked at him, or hissed.

They hissed that he was to blame
for everything, and everyone knew it,
and that if   he weren’t such a pussy
he’d know what to do, and he’d do it.

He lay on his side on the rug
unable to move at all
except for his big right toe,
which dug and dug at the wall,
which dug at the wall,
which dug.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the cure.
And they begged him to sew his mouth shut
just to make goddamn sure.

“Don’t take me!” cried the Clozapine.
“Don’t take me!” cried the poison.
And the gate to the wicked city gaped,
and the gates of the temple screamed and screamed,
and the gates of the garden groaned and yawned,
and the gates of the ziggurat gabbled in grief,
and sucked all life’s sorrows and joys in.

His thoughts were advancing like wolves.
He lay still for an hour and a half,
then reared up onto his rickety legs
like a newborn calf.

Then rug
hall
stairs
porch
stoop
street
and the blacktop humanly warm
on the soles of   his naked feet.

His walk was stiffened by fear,
but it took him where he was going,
into the terrible world
of children and daffodils growing,
and friendly people helloing,
and the Super out doing the mowing,
and the two old sisters out in wool sweaters with their wrinkled
cheeks pinkly glowing,
and the pretty lady who would give birth by Christmas barely
showing but showing,
and the policeman helping to keep the lazy afternoon traffic
flowing,
and time itself slowing,
and none of them, none of them knowing

that an odious axis was forming,
that it would not be controlled,
that schemes were afoot, that a foot
was a thing for a jackboot to hold,

that the street was a movie set,
that it was not warm and sunny,
that a creditor was calling
who could not be paid with money,

that the world was like a sliver
of   iron held in the hand,
and his mind the lodestone above it
that made it stir or stand,

that the air was slowly changing
to a color they didn’t know,
that he was a famous doctor
on a television show.

But what could he do? Even friends
would take these facts for lies,
and he couldn’t tell who the enemies were,
though he felt the hot breath of their eyes,

so he kept his big mouth shut
and tried to play along,
and plowed down the street toward the coffeeshop
as if nothing at all were wrong.

He tried not to notice the numbers
painted on garbage cans.
He tried and he tried not to look
at the black unmarked sedans.

The coffeeshop smelled like coffee,
but it felt different inside.
A new waitress went by. She winked.
He kept his eyes open wide.

Everything screamed “Run away!”
But he wasn’t really there!
So he stood by the gumball machines
and smiled and tried not to stare.

“The power is yours!” said a T-shirt.
“Look for lightning!” reported the weather.
And the stranger who offered the Sports section said,
“It’s all there, Chief. Just put it together.”

Then wild-eyed out of the kitchen
stormed a small, hard old man,
shouting in a strange language
and waving a frying pan,

shoving him out the door
and into the chattering street,
shoving him, waving, shouting,
and pointing at his feet,
at his bare, gray feet.

Then came the dark blue uniform,
the badge glinting in the sun,
and the belt jangling like a storm trooper’s
as the boots broke into a run.

“Take that!” cried the patrolman.
“Take that!” cried Johnny Law.
Street, knee, neck —
cuffs, curb, jaw.

And the flatfoot pushed him, bleeding,
into the sleek cruiser,
and he heard all the gawkers thinking
that he was a pig and a loser,

and his chin throbbed,
and the handcuffs ate at his wrist,
and he would be hacked into pieces soon
and would not be missed.

“Don’t take me!” cried the victim.
“Don’t take me!” cried the threat.
But the angry back of a head
was the only response he could get.

Lying on his side like a child
at the end of a big day,
he gazed up through the window
and watched it all slip away.

The little pen where they put him
had a toilet but no stall.
Here and there a message
scarred the gloss-white wall.

Time passed. But you couldn’t tell it
on the trapped fly ticking the ceiling,
or the flickering light overhead,
or the sore on his chin congealing,
or on the sound of the other pigs in the other pens, squealing.

When the men came, he was ready.
He talked. They took it all down.
And soon they were back in the cruiser,
on their way across town.

Then, into the mirrored building,
over the waxed lobby floors,
down miles of echoing hallways,
through the heavy brown doors,

into a humming beige room
with a bed and a river view,
and an outside lock, and jailers
who wore white instead of blue.

“Take that,” smiled the doctor.
“Take that,” smiled the nurse.
He pressed his lips still tighter,
and things got worse and worse.

“Please!” threatened the nurse.
“Please!” growled the doctor.
He raised his fists to cover his mouth,
but the nurse was too close, and he clocked her.

Now into the room came the big men,
who did not clamor or shout,
but pinned him with ease to the bed,
strapped him down, and went out.

And the doctor was there again, trailing
a spider web of cologne,
and the doctor told what would happen next,
in an expert monotone,

and the nurse took a needle
and emptied it into his arm,
and they both left, content
that he could do no more harm,

and he fought, and the straps cut his shoulders,
and he gnawed at his lip, and it bled,
and he held his bladder for three long hours,
then shivered and pissed the bed.

When the doctor came a fifth time,
it was long past dawn.
They’d found him a room, said the doctor,
gently restraining a yawn.

The next two days were sleep,
and words through a fine white mist.
Then he woke inside a machine
whose motion he couldn’t resist:

“Tick-tock,” said the clock.
“Creak, creak,” said the bed.
“Drip, drip,” said the sink.
“Throb, throb,” went his head.
“Ho-hum,” sighed the night nurse.
“Heh-heh,” said the sicko.
“Why? Why?” screamed the patient.
“Howl, howl!” cried the psycho.
“Wolf! Wolf!” cried the boy.
“Gobble, gobble!” sang the freaks.
“Sa, sa!” cried the king.
“Tick-tock,” went the weeks.
“Bang, bang,” said the tv.
“Teeter-totter,” went his brain.
“Click, click,” went the checkers.
“Pitter-patter,” went the rain.
“Bring-bring,” said the pay phone.
“Snip, snip,” went Fate.
“Jangle-jingle,” went the keys.
“Clank-clink,” went the gate.
“Bye-bye,” said the nurse.
“Bye-bye,” said the guard.
“Bar-bar,” said the doctor.
“Baa-baa,” said the lamb.
“My, my,” said his mother.
“Boohoo!” cried Bo Peep.
“Bow-wow,” said the wolf.
“Baa-baa,” said the sheep.

In the car away from that place,
the family had a pleasant chat.
He seemed fine again, and humble,
though his speech was oddly flat.

He said that the halfway house
where he would be residing
was located on a quiet block and had
green vinyl siding.

There he met new people
and watched the television,
which did not watch him back
or speak to him with derision,

and he performed certain tasks,
meant to teach certain skills,
and he got small checks from the government
to pay his enormous bills.

Each night he fell asleep,
and each morning he got up,
and he washed down his medicine
and squashed the paper cup,

feeling, in all, much better,
more in touch with common sense,
and also slightly bored
by the lack of consequence.

And the church bells rang
and a dinner bell tinkled
and the school bell tolled
and called all the good girls and boys in.
And all of them brought all their toys in.
And all of them swallowed their poison.

© 2013 Joshua Mehigan. Today’s poem originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Poetry.

Each person acting in the subject’s welfare is cruelly indifferent towards him, wanting to make him less of a problem instead of helping him to manage his illness(es) and therefore lead a richer and happier life.

I know I don’t usually post long-form poems, but I made an exception for today because I love the way Mehigan evokes the vagaries of mental illness in “The Orange Bottle”. The subject of the poem experiences a brief burst of mania followed by a deep and relentless depression. His erratic behavior, which a compassionate person would interpret as a cry for help and indicate a need for treatment, leads instead to his arrest, imprisonment, and later hospitalization. Each person acting in the subject’s welfare is cruelly indifferent towards him, wanting to make him less of a problem instead of helping him to manage his illness(es) and therefore lead a richer and happier life.

Despite all of our gilded discourse surrounding vulnerability and destigmatization, mental illness is still something that many people don’t understand and probably don’t even want to.

Despite all of our gilded discourse surrounding vulnerability and destigmatization, mental illness is still something that many people don’t understand and probably don’t even want to. I myself come from a long line of severely mentally-ill people. Generational trauma, complex PTSD, and substance abuse disorders exacerbated by abject poverty and a lack of proper treatment have wreaked havoc on both sides of my family line. It doesn’t help that the Evangelical bootstraps rhetoric that generations of my people have been subjected to has caused many of them to see their illnesses as symptoms of a spiritual malady and not a chemical imbalance in the brain.

We deserve to live out in the open, wounds visible.

I want better for them. I want better for all of us. And that all starts by telling our stories, by refusing to be cowed by convention or silenced by stigma. We deserve to live out in the open, wounds visible. That’s the first step to getting better.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Self Care Pinterest Board

As someone who lives with multiple mental health issues, I know how daunting it can be at times to perform even the most rudimentary acts of self-care. In that vein, I’ve been curating a Pinterest board full of positive messages and self care tips for people who want to take better care of themselves but don’t really know where or how to begin. I’ve also got a couple of designs that I made myself that I’ve not yet pinned, but more on that later.

For now, if you’d like to check out my Pinterest board dedicated to self care, check out the code below.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

A Small Reminder for You Today…

Alt Text: Reminder: You only get one shot at life. Do not waste your time or energy on people or things that don’t nourish your soul, invigorate your mind, and bring you happiness.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Quote for the Day: September 5th, 2021

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

In this moment, you’re still breathing. In this moment, you’ve survived. In this moment, you’re finding a way to step onto higher ground.

I’ve read What I Know For Sure twice and I keep coming back to this quote. It’s easy to become bogged down by the accretion of worries and problems that we never really seem to have time to process before we have to tackle the next challenge. Remembering this quote helps me to get through by living moment to moment—by living mindfully. I can take stock in each moment when I feel overwhelmed and know that as of right now, I have everything I need. Right now, I am still breathing. Right now, my family is safe, healthy, and provided for. Right now, I am capable of doing what I have to do. Right now. Right now. Right now.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter and Instagram @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.