That’s not my name: Mrs. Joe Brzycki

It’s started

Just as I knew it would:

With Christmas cards the first holiday season

After the wedding

Addressed to

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Brzycki.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful,

Because I truly enjoy Christmas cards,

Even the drugstore ones with the dashed-off signature and nothing else.

But it makes me chuckle:

Mrs. Joe Brzycki?

There’s no such person.

I get it:

People assume that I changed my name,

Because that’s what most women do.

Or they don’t know my last name,

Or they know it but are unsure of the spelling.

Actually,

Of the three last names in our house,

Mine is probably the easiest to spell:

Brzycki (Joe and his kids),

Hietalahti (my son),

Niemela, (me).

I’ve thought about those smooth gray stones

You can order at the State Fair:

“Welcome to the Smiths!”

The neat and tidy family surname:

Everyone in the house with the same last name!

We’d need a boulder for all the names in our family.

But I love all our last names.

There’s a lot of history,

In the grand sense:

Polish and Scandinavian immigration to America–

And the modern dramatics of a blended family–

Marriage, kids, divorce, remarriage.

(And now another kid on the way who,

Incidentally,

Will have my last name

Because,

Why not?)

Here’s the deal,

Ladies:

I don’t care what you do.

Change it,

Keep it,

Hyphenate it,

Tack it on at the end,

Slip it into the middle,

Make up a whole new name so

Everyone has to get a new drivers license!

For me,

Ever since the age of eight or nine,

When I realized that

Most women take their husband’s names,

I knew I would keep mine.

I haven’t wavered in that.

Ever.

There are so many reasons I’ve kept my last name

Through one marriage and into another.

(Never had to change my passport

Once.)

Yes, it’s about

Gender politics,

Symbols, and–

Dare I say the F-word–

I’m gonna say it–

Feminism.

To me,

The idea of being Mrs. Joe Brzycki

Subsumes me into Joe

In a way that anyone who knows us

Would find absurd.

But I also kept my last name

Because I just like it.

I know what it means:

Peninsula, in Finnish.

I imagine a point wooded with pine and birch

Jutting into a clear,

Boulder-bottomed lake.

Like a Boundary Waters campsite.

I’m a writer.

Words–

Names are words–

Are important to me.

Not just the aesthetics of how a word looks

Or sounds.

But what words mean.

Why choose one word over another?

Loneliness,

Or solitude?

Brzycki,

Or Niemela?

Does it matter?

It does,

To me.

Professionally,

Personally,

Even as part of a family unit,

It’s my policy to keep a part of myself

Just for me.

And my own name,

From beginning to end,

Is a manifestation of that part of myself.

It’s like the

Silent,

Black

Space

Just before I fall asleep at night,

When no children,

No husband,

No job,

Need me.

The divine chemicals of sleep

Bathe my tired brain.

It’s just me: Jennifer Niemela

At rest.

Hello, have we met before?: A night with my old journals

I was paging through my old journals

The other night.

1987 (13 years old)

To the present.

A couple times I chuckled

A couple times I cringed:

The obsessions and

Vapid concerns of the

Teenage or early-20s

Me.

Declarations of love to

High school boyfriends;

Gut-twisting fears of

Friends turning on me.

And booze running through like a

Narrow, toxic river.

Who was that person?

That girl-woman

Flailing forward–

I did move forward despite the booze–

Functional, they call it.

I suppose I’m the same person,

Really.

Leaner and more

Focused.

Quieter in my neuroses,

Or more deliberate about sharing them

(Like starting a blog!)

Not quite as naive about

Love–

Although I still surprise myself.

And the booze river?

Dried up.

The river bed still cutting through,

Permanent and available;

A tender scar.

Writing in Helsinki

My second book I wrote in Helsinki.

We had a one-bedroom apartment

Above a YMCA,

And our windows looked out on

Snowy pine trees.

The entryway to our apartment was a

U-shaped staircase with a landing,

And above the landing was a huge window and wide window sill.

I would sit in the window sill and paint wine bottles.

For writing,

I would move the rocking chair to the top of the staircase

So I was facing the window and the snowy trees,

The stairs falling away below me.

It gave the illusion that the

Room

Had

No

Floor,

Like I was floating toward the

Snowy pine trees

With my notebook in my lap

And a pen entwined in my fingers.

I finished that book in a different apartment.

Less geometrical.

But by then I was

Pregnant,

And my growing belly gave the space

The dimension it needed.

I finished the novel Aug. 20

And my son was born Aug. 22.

Creating, creating.

Learning to write in Seattle

My first book I wrote in Seattle.

I was living in an apartment on a hill above downtown.

There was a view of Lake Union from the bathroom window.

I would pack my swimming gear and my

Laptop into my backpack and

Glide down the hill on my bike

Into downtown.

I would swim laps in the small basement pool at the YMCA,

Then go across the street to the public library.

I’d find my study carrel,

Usually the same one on the second floor,

And set up:

Laptop, CD player,

A secret snack in the backpack at my feet.

The library was full of homeless people.

Homeless men, boys, girls.

Gutter punks who rode the rails to this corner of our nation.

The young boys and girls

Pierced and tattooed and tired and wary under

Black sweatshirt hoods.

The older men were ragged and bearded in

Dusty military fatigues.

I’d see the same ones often.

They would put their heads down on the desk

For a few minutes of sleep before a security guard would

Nudge them awake.

I would look up,

Pausing to ruminate, and

Consider these folks.

They felt like my co-workers.

If I ever had to get up to use the bathroom,

I had to take everything with me,

Or it would be gone when I returned.

Meanwhile, the dimensions of my surroundings,

The mountain ranges to the east and west,

The narrow plunges and curves of the city streets,

Helped frame up the space I’d made for myself

For writing.

Where I will find the time

Story

And time.

Those are the twin

Concerns

Of writing a book.

Just as important as the writer’s stew of

Plot, character, inspiration

Is the laborer’s

Commitment to producing words on paper.

Which takes

Time.

Always for me,

The two develop on parallel planes in my head:

The story, and

My writing schedule.

How my daily activities will shift and settle around the

Writing time.

I suppose it’s a

Left brain/

Right brain thing.

What would a week look like

With one hour

Carved out of each

Day

For writing?

I am resigned to taking it out of

Mornings.

To waking up early.

Say 5 a.m.

(Some people do that anyway.)

In the dark and quiet house:

Half-hour of yoga to get some

Fresh air

Moving through the limbs and brain.

Then the writer’s

Solitude.

The thing is,

Time,

Is a limited resource.

If one hour is taken

Here,

One hour must be given,

Somewhere else.

Pillaging my sleep is not an option

I need my straight eight

So it will have to be

Earlier nights.

Farmer’s hours.

I like to go to bed early.

I like to sleep.

So I think

I hope

It will work.

You never know until you start,

And do it for a few days and weeks.

Will this schedule take?

We’ll see.

Vertical writing (not poetry)

I want to tell you

Why

I write this blog

Vertically.

I feels it wants some

Explanation.

It looks like a

Formatting

Error.

But it’s not.

I wrote like this

As a girl

In my journals.

(I never called them

“Diaries.”)

I wrote like this

Because I like how it

Emphasizes

Words

If I want it to.

I wrote like this for

Many years

In my girl’s bedroom in

High school.

In my semi-adult

College apartment

Bedrooms.

This is how I

Wrote.

More

Down

Than across.

I never called it

Poetry.

Sometimes I called it

Verse.

To distinguish from

Prose.

And I think

It works

In this medium.

The Internet.

I think

Down,

Vertical,

Scrollable on a smartphone

Works.

So I wonder:

Could the practice of poetry

And verse

Surge

On smartphones

And break

Like a wave?

It would be

Lovely.

Blog, take three: finding time

I’ve been wanting to start this

Blog

For a long

Time.

I have tried it before.

Twice.

And stopped.

Embarrassed.

Unsure.

I’ll try again,

And maybe again after that.

What stops me is

Time.

(Or that’s what I tell myself.)

I don’t have

Time.

Who has

The time?

“Make

Time

For it.”

I’ve said that before.

But I can’t

Make

Time.

Create time.

That is beyond by

Very limited

Powers.

And anyway.

I like the days and

Nights

Just as they are.

I suspect that

The way to

Find

Time

Is to

Slow down

And give myself a chance

To look for it.

I found some today.

A 15-minute

Surprise.

A bright gift

In the still-dark morning.

I’ll take it.

Thank you.