Where I'm From #120 By Tamara MC

Where I'm From

Alyson Shelton


Alyson Shelton: Hello, everyone. I’m Allison. Thank you for joining me for where I’m from. 120 with Tamara. This is our second try. Everything just frozen me in a minute ago. What are you reading? I read exit interview the life and death of my ambitious career by Christie Poulter, which is about her, I believe, 12 years at Amazon.

And I just felt like it was a really insightful read about

The invisibility that she experienced being a part of that environment, no matter how hard she worked didn’t matter. Okay. This happens from time to time. We’re trying again. Um, and. Apologies, Tara, you were in the middle of telling me something really emotional and then everything went completely haywire, which is my least favorite time for things to go haywire, so, I believe you were telling me that a friend of your son died.

Tamara MC: Yes, no, so a friend, a close friend of mine, who is my age. Yes. My son died a couple of weeks ago, unexpectedly in his sleep and my friend found the father found his son in bed, like no longer. So I’ve been dealing with that for the past couple of weeks, and then they had the memorial for the sun this past Sunday, and My friend obviously was there and the next day on Monday, he’s, my friend started having like heart palpitations.

So we went to the ER, they sent him home and said it was just anxiety. He was driving home and after two minutes, his brother was driving. He said people die of broken hearts. And a minute later, my friend died two weeks after his son died. And he wasn’t. somebody who had a perfect heart, who like cycled and did everything.

And so he literally died of a broken heart. And so I guess my, I’m a little bit low in energy. Because of that. Yeah. But I think I’ve also been like thinking about the poetry prompt in terms of like him. I’ve been thinking, where is he from? Like I’ve been thinking about my friend and like how I could write a poem about him, which I intend to do, maybe using this prompt, which I thought was interesting

Alyson Shelton: kind of, yeah.

Oh, how devastating. I’m so sorry.

Tamara MC: Yeah, no, no, thank you. Thank you. So I’m dedicating our little our little get together today to him.

Alyson Shelton: Yeah I absolutely think you can type a broken heart. So I That’s just I we have another friend who found their child asleep in their bed dead and that is not just So

every morning when I wake my children up I’m grateful that they’re I’m very like aware of that every morning because of our friend that that happened Yeah. Like you’re here, you know, and I’m grateful for your aliveness. Um, so I’m so sorry. And, um, does, does he have a. Does he have a wife? Is there a mother?

Tamara MC: No, he doesn’t. He doesn’t have

Alyson Shelton: a wife. I just was thinking of her if she existed and how devastating that would be. He

Tamara MC: has a daughter. So the daughter just dealt with the death of her brother and then two weeks later is dealing with the death of her father. So that’s

Alyson Shelton: like, you know, that’s

Tamara MC: something. So, but no.

Yeah. So, so yeah, so I’m a little bit somber today. My energy is a little bit low.

Alyson Shelton: Yeah, that’s understandable. Well, thank you for sharing that. And my heart goes out to you. And to her. To their family. Yes, exactly. The whole family. Um, specifically to her, I’ve lost a brother and, and not, not a father at the same time.

Many years later. So, um, well, would you like to read your poem now or, um, go for it?

Tamara MC: Where Tamara’s from. I am from. Torn stockings and polyester girdles. Reeking of urine. Bleach stains. Hold fabric. I was birthed in a box of Kraft mac and cheese. Bread. and mother’s macrame plant anger. I reign from the Rubik’s Cube I never solved, which will prepare me for a lifetime of not solving puzzles, crosswords.

The question, why was my dearest maternal great grandmother murdered? Why? I hail from the circular mud adobe in the desert southwest. Cotton candy sunsets, howling coyotes, the smell of creosote before a monsoon rain. I was picked from a prickly pear cactus. My purple fruit dyes fingers. The color of the black and blue mark the man will leave around my neck.

Like the ring another man left around my grandmother’s neck. I am from boiling water poured from a shiny samovar. I am from Sam, my maternal great grandfather who died of starvation. From paternal great grandparents who starved themselves to death. From stitches, broken skulls, and schizophrenia. From eat, eat, eat.

From don’t eat too much, you’ll get fat. I’m from hovering and hooting owls. Hungry. Javelinas who whack down garbage cans. A spongy lenders bagel smeared with Philadelphia cream cheese. My front teeth sticky with white goo from my maternal grandmother who snuck out to steal bread. So her gram, so her sister wouldn’t starve.

Her hands so strong she could crush cars, but instead, she crushed hearts with her kindness, empathy, and forgiveness. I am Minna’s granddaughter, Rose’s great granddaughter. I come from a lineage of mega matriarchs whom I bow to in reverence.

Alyson Shelton: Thank you so much. Thank you.

That was very powerful. It was when I read it, but hearing you read it, obviously, even more so. So, what was the experience like for

Tamara MC: you, writing it? So, initially, I wrote the poem after you and I first spoke. Okay. And then we ended up meeting a little bit earlier. So, we read what I originally wrote. And I no longer wanted it for some reason, and it was a very different poem.

So after we like had a new date, which is today to meet, I rewrote the poem all again, and it was just a completely different poem than the first one. So I thought that that was really interesting.

Alyson Shelton: It is. I think it’s so interesting to think about how many iterations there are of the poem that exists within all of us.

You know, like, I think probably endless, like we are from so many places. We hold so many histories and truths and experiences. Um, but you’re happy with this one. You’re glad this is the one you, you, you shared content. I don’t know if happy is the right, whatever word you would choose, whatever adjective you would choose.

Yeah. Um,

Tamara MC: I think so much has changed in the world, like with what’s going on. Yeah. Yeah. My poem, I have a couple of identities that are very much in the middle of the conflict that’s happening in the world right now and my first poem was about that, but it was before all of this happened. And so I didn’t really want to bring that into this poem.

It’s too close. To me right now that I just decided not to include those parts of my identity. So this poem was really kind of almost a covering up of that. It was almost like I was having to write, I felt like mysteriously in a way. Which I’ve found that in years, I’ve really trained my writing to be, I used to kind of always, because I come from a very complicated background, I used to kind of use poetry as a way that I could speak about things without saying the thing directly.

And I feel that in this poem, because now I write a lot of prose, and so I’m very direct about my experiences, but I feel that in a poem you can say the thing without saying the thing. So, I think that that was kind of the experience that I had in the second iteration, and I’m not saying that it was, um, it was just, I felt like it was an interesting experience, but I do like, I like the first poem, which I can use possibly at a different time for something else.

But I like this one because it kind of got it something I wasn’t, you know, I, I feel like in writing it’s really, it’s almost like our unconscious subconscious comes out and it brings out themes that we’re not even aware of. And I felt that this had themes that I didn’t really know I was writing to until I kind of read it multiple times.

And I was like, wow, this really has to do about starvation and not eating food deprivation. And that wasn’t something that I had really thought

Alyson Shelton: about. Yeah. And obviously the matriarchs that was that’s explicitly running through it, um, which I’ve, I’ve written a few of these myself and I want to write one a year.

We’ll see if I do it. But the last 1 for me was about that a bit and my grandmother died. My maternal grandmother was seriously was most likely murdered. And I think as I have shared that story, I find that there’s a lot of people who have those kinds of stories in their lineages. And I don’t know if yours was.

What it was about mine was about mental illness that nobody wanted to deal with. So they just got rid of her. Um, and, and I think the poem helped me, um, frame it in a way that, um, even though I knew it and how it’s influenced. Myself and my own mother, um, and how that’s used as a cudgel to, uh, encourage good behavior.

Um, so was it your great grandmother

Tamara MC: and

Alyson Shelton: your grandmother who were murdered or killed?

Tamara MC: Well, I come from a Holocaust family, so. Wow, you really do have the intersection. Yes, so I really do like my great grandmother, my great grandpa. I mean, it just goes on, you know, all of my maternal family. Yeah. Was murdered.

My grandmother was survived. And so I think a lot. About this in my work. Um, but yeah, so I kind of came into the world. My mother’s an only child. I’m an only child. So we have a tiny little family. So, um, so yes, so there has been and like going back to my friend that I was talking about at the beginning, I didn’t.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this line, but his father was murdered when he was a child from a very different way than the holocaust, but I hadn’t realized like that I had even put that in here and I kind of dedicated this to him. So maybe that is kind of a theme that I hadn’t really thought about as well.

Alyson Shelton: I’m sorry for all your loss. Thank you. Yeah, I didn’t. Um, excuse me, I didn’t realize that that side of your family was Jewish. I knew because I’ve read some of your work that, um, your father was Muslim. So I had assumed you were talking about that, but you’re talking about both. So that must be really a lot to hold.

Tamara MC: Yeah. And that goes back to my very complicated identity, all that’s going on in the Middle East right now. My first poem was directly addressing those, um. My hybrid identity of being both religions and both cultures, both identities, but it’s just too much for me to speak about now. So that’s kind

Alyson Shelton: of, I really do because it’s, it’s vulnerable and it’s, um, people are really coming hard at people right now for just sharing what’s real for them and wanting it to be politically succinct.

Which isn’t realistic with

Tamara MC: exactly and I, I mean, just to say that I feel like people with lived experience. Their voices are being silenced right now where they should actually be the ones that are able to. Right now. Yeah. And so being in an ally is being able to listen rather than being able to speak at this time.

So, um, I think it’s really important right now that people are able to listen to those who have lived experience and those who share these identities directly.

Alyson Shelton: I agree. I’m doing a lot of listening and I’m trying to ignore the noise that I should be doing something else. Because that’s what I feel like when I’m in personal relationships.

Like when I’m actually in a relationship with somebody, I feel like that’s what people want is to be heard. Um, and my performance of more isn’t really helping anyone just trying to do that. Um, uh, so I was interested to, I’ve read your writing. So I know that you were married at 12. Um, it doesn’t, is that present in this poem or no?

Cause I know sometimes I think things aren’t present in people’s poems, but there are, um, sort of, you know, little, little clues. Was that in the poll?

Tamara MC: No, it wasn’t. Yeah, I think like, sometimes, You want

Alyson Shelton: to write

Tamara MC: about something else? an identity can take up so much space, but then there’s no space for anything else.

And, um, so if I do say certain, like, Sometimes I’m just like, I don’t want to talk about this part of the identity because then there’s so many questions that follow Where I don’t want to be the focus on necessarily that all the time Because that isn’t my only identity. It’s only I mean, it’s a huge aspect of my day But

Alyson Shelton: well, it’s certainly I think I can see that it’s kind of like a headline Like, it’s one that gets people, it hooks them, and so then they want to talk about that, um, but I, I can see also, um, as, I mean, I think most of us hold different truths about ourselves, and Balancing that is an ongoing challenge and project, and sometimes I just don’t want to write about certain things because I write about it a lot.

It’s like, I’d like to write about something else because there’s more to me than that. I’m a survivor, you know? Like, I’m happy to talk about it. I talk about it a lot, um, because the more I talk about it, The less shame I have around it, and I feel like it helps people, but, um, it’s not something I think about all day, every day, and I’m guessing it’s the same, even though it influences me into the part of me, it’s not something I’m.

Thinking about consciously all the time. There’s lots of other things that take my energy and space. I don’t know if that resonates with you. Yeah, I think

Tamara MC: like, like that part of my identity does take up a lot of space. Like it really does in my day to day living and my reactions to things, my healing, the work that I do.

That’s always kind of, that’s the bottom of everything for me. It is. Um, but I think that I have to purposefully almost be like, okay, this piece isn’t going to be about this thing at this moment. Because I felt like the, this poem, the where I’m from, I felt like it was really about my maternal grandmother and her lineage and her, and that isn’t part of her identity.

So I think that I was able. Kind of tweeze it out and then to just kind of look at that more so like look at her Like where she came from and then where did I come from from

Alyson Shelton: her? That’s what I felt a lot of that and I Think I want circling back to what you were saying about poetry. I don’t know if you’ve read Jane Wong or her book Meet me tonight in Atlantic City, but she taught, she’s a poet, and she talked a lot about how writing a memoir, writing prose was such a different experience because poetry did serve that function of being able to talk about things without being explicit and being able to kind of, like you say, go into those spaces and explore them without having like a full, you know, cause when you’re writing in prose, people have questions and you know, you can choose not to answer them, but you can’t not answer all of them.

It doesn’t really work. So it’s, um, I, I have, I have liked this poem because this prompt and listening to all these poems because it has brought to the forefront for me how important details are like sensory details and how they can tell a story, but they don’t necessarily tell a linear story that you can track from A to B to C to D and that that’s not necessarily their intention either.

Um, you can give people something to hold and it doesn’t need to be all of you or all of it. Um, and that’s definitely influenced me in a lot of different ways, my writing, but also my life. I don’t have to give people everything all

Tamara MC: the time. Exactly. Yeah. So I, I began in poetry. And so, like, I was accepted into Columbia University for an MFA in poetry.

So kind of my background was initially in poetry. And I did love that ability. Like, exactly. Like, I think that’s the beauty of poetry. But I think for me to like, Move forward in my healing. I needed to move from poetry to prose And I felt that when i’m actually able That I have to keep my sentences together.

They have to flow. I have to be able to answer questions I feel that that has been some of my greatest healing. I felt like Poetry was like my entry drug into writing like what got me in And it was so important is my first step just i’m speaking on, you know on behalf of myself Yeah. But then the second much needed step was the prose part of it and really being able to write essays, to be able to write memoir, to be able to cohere all the fragments in my, cause I just felt like my life was so fragmented and in order to bring together my identities, prose was able to help me do that.

Alyson Shelton: That’s beautiful. Well, is there anything else that you want to touch on or talk about before we wrap up? There’s so much in your poem, um, about survival, which I mean, of your writing, I read it’s all about survival, but like you say, this was more about starvation and food and tangible of surviving. Um, I just wanted to say that out loud.

But I think, I think stories of surviving are so important. And I think this is a. A beautiful poem about it without feeling like it’s, you know, dipping into that trauma place that people sometimes like from, um, survivor stories where you kind of cannibalize a piece of yourself and they like that kind of like, you know, hit, I feel like you’re walking that line where you’re, you’re sharing a piece of yourself, but you’re not hopefully giving up a piece of yourself

Tamara MC: in the process.

Yeah, so actually while I was writing this I was thinking about like my maternal side like my grandfather was a traveling, my great grandfather who, our family comes from Lithuania, was a traveling Hebrew teacher and there were very, very few Hebrew teachers in Lithuania then. The Jew, um, the Jewish language was Yiddish so most families spoke Yiddish.

But, um, they didn’t know Hebrew. And so during the Holocaust, like, he traveled town to town teaching Hebrew, and he traveled by horse, and he didn’t survive because he had no food. He ran out of food and water on the road. So that was his way of starvation. And then, like, on my You know, then the rest of the family, you know, had all sorts of different starvation with regards to the holocaust then I was thinking about my maternal side my paternal side of my dad’s side of the family and My great grandmother and my great grandfather died of anorexia They stopped eating themselves, so they made the choice to stop eating and They weighed less than 60 pounds, and then my grandmother also suffered from, um, anorexia.

And when I was growing up, she weighed 58 pounds. Oh my goodness. And so I was thinking, and that side of my family, um, So, yeah, I was just looking at how food was so different on both sides, but there was starvation kind of that like tied them together, that it was so interesting when I was thinking about that.

And then I was just thinking about food and my life and like, I grew up. which we didn’t get into, but kind of going back to my child marriage. I also grew up in a cult, and food was used as deprivation, and we weren’t able to eat, and we were restricted, and we always had special diets, and so I was just like, kind of looking at that, like food deprivation, and I just found that really interesting, that this was kind of coming through in this poem.

Alyson Shelton: I agree. And were your paternal great grandparents, was that a choice they made? I mean, they had anorexia, so that’s not a choice. But was it like,

was it faith based? Was it life based? Was it like reaching some kind of higher plane of existence? Or they just were like, this is the best way to be?

Tamara MC: Um, I can’t speak for them because I was so young when that was all happening, but,

Alyson Shelton: and we never know why anyone does anything truly, but

Tamara MC: yeah, but they came from a lot of trauma too.

They came over as refugees themselves to the United States and had had all sorts of trauma where they were from, um, from Belarus. And so they had all sorts of trauma from there. So kind of coming to the United States and just all the. It just towards the end of their lives. They just stopped eating.

First, my, my, my great grandfather stopped eating and sorry. First, my great grandmother stopped eating and she died. And then kind of like what we just began with it. Yeah, my great grandfather then stopped eating even more once his wife died and then also died of a broken heart. So So that also happened.


Alyson Shelton: I’m

Tamara MC: so sorry. This isn’t a very happy session. It’s okay,

Alyson Shelton: you don’t need to be happy. This is not, this is not that space. I’m definitely not a person who’s like, please, you must come and share only happy stories. Like, I, I was on a call on, uh, I don’t know, a couple days ago and after the fact, one of We were, it’s about, it was about sibling loss cause I’m working on an anthology and a community and all this about it.

And so I was on a call with a bunch of people who’ve lost their siblings and to death to be clear, not estrangement. And, um, she said after, you know, the thing about misery and company is together, it creates hope. And it like got me because that’s, I agree, like sitting alone with your, your sadness or your misery or your trauma.

Um, or when I sat alone with it, it was not great for me, but talking to people about it, lifting the shame, lifting that belief that somehow sharing something that is emotional and difficult for me is too much to ask of another person, uh, has helped me a lot in my life. It’s not too much for me. Tomorrow, just to be clear, not like, Oh, no,

well, I mean, that’s up to them. But I think, um, I just, I don’t know, life is really something. And I think that the more you dig into your own life and the life of your ancestors, like talking about them being refugees, talking about the Holocaust. Everyone doesn’t have that story, obviously. And I’m so sorry.

Um, But most people got something, somebody back there. Life was really hard and, and survival was not easy. Uh, and we’re carrying that with us in our DNA. So, uh, I think normalizing, like, um, Life was hard. Life is still hard, but like just living like he was on a horse. He didn’t have enough food. He died, you know, that kind of stuff happened

and it still does in different parts of the world and we distance ourself from that reality, but it’s still happening. So anyway, I appreciate your honesty and please don’t feel like you need to apologize.

Tamara MC: Yeah, thank you. And I know, like, I really set off to write this poem and to make it upbeat.

Alyson Shelton: I don’t know why.

I’ve done that to very little success. I’m like, this is going to be a happy one. Because there was a lot of happiness and joy. Exactly. You know, like I can do this, but nope, not,

Tamara MC: but I think the beauty is really when there’s happiness and joy, and then there’s also sorrow and complex like that, what, that’s what makes it so complex, that bitter sweetness of life that it’s like, there’s so much joy in this poem for me, maybe not for others.

Alyson Shelton: I hope

Tamara MC: you can see some of it, like, um, you know, like my mother’s macrame plant hanger. They were all those really

Alyson Shelton: take me back to a time. I want to say that when you read that I was, I smile if you watch the replay, like, because that is like the seventies, right? Like those macrame freaking plant things were everywhere.

We didn’t have any, but I’d go into people’s houses and it was like, I don’t, it’s not that easy to macrame just for the record. Exactly.

Tamara MC: And my mom was obsessed with both macrame and plants. We had all sorts of foliage just kind of coming down everywhere. Like every corner you’d go there’d be macrame plant hangers.

And you know, just even like thinking about like I was, I grew up, I’m a vegetarian still today, a lifelong vegetarian. I was one then. And just like. eating like my Kraft Mac and cheese. It was like such a delicacy because my mother was always into health food and she does brown rice and veggies, but kind of be able to have like this Kraft Mac and cheese that I would just kind of eat one little, you know, pasta shell at a time and be like, Oh, this is so delicious.

Alyson Shelton: I didn’t have it until I was like 13. So I understand the health food. It was like, a friend was like, make this, we need something. I was like, what is this? Like, I don’t know how to make, I’ll read the instructions. Like, she just assumed, obviously, I would know how to make it. Like, because people ate it all the time.

But I was like, no, we don’t have processed food. You know, like, that’s not something, I mean, I bit my tongue in half when I was 11, I think. It hung on by a little bit of tongue, but they had to sew it back up. And, um, I had a big scar and I had to eat Jell O for like a week. And I remember I thought that was the best thing I’d ever heard in my life.

I didn’t get to eat Jell O. Um, I hated Jell O by the end, of course, because you don’t want to eat it for that long. But I remember when they first told me, I was like, Oh, there’s no way out of this. Like, I have to eat Jell O. It’s doctor’s orders. I was going to eat sugar all week long. It was great. It wasn’t that great, but I just remember thinking like, Oh.

So, I totally understand that, um.

Tamara MC: Yeah, and like, even like, with the Kraft Mac and Cheese, like, you’re supposed to make it with milk, but we didn’t even have milk. So, I would just make it with water, and I would be like, this is

Alyson Shelton: delicious! Yeah, that chemical tang. You were like, what is this? I don’t have this anywhere else!

Exactly. Yeah.

Tamara MC: Yeah. So, I think that, yeah, and I guess just lastly, I live in the desert, so there’s just so much, we have coyotes and javelinas, and.

Alyson Shelton: Javelinas made me laugh, too, because I’ve been around javelinas, and just even picturing them makes me smile and laugh, because they’re otherworldly. A bit.

Tamara MC: They are, but people don’t realize and like new people that come to the desert, they try to feed.

Oh, no, don’t do that. No, they are dangerous

Alyson Shelton: and

Tamara MC: they’re very, very fast, which you wouldn’t assume,

Alyson Shelton: but they’re cantankerous. I mean, they seem very like, you know, yeah, yeah, no, I’ve heard they’re

Tamara MC: fast. They’re very fast. And there’s actually a YouTube video of a Javelina running that one of my friends built.

If anybody just wants to put in fast Javelina running, you will see a great YouTube video. I will. Wow, I didn’t know this was possible

Alyson Shelton: Yeah, because I like I I find them kind of charming because I’ve never been bothered by you know It’s very much like I see you you see me. Let’s continue on with whatever we were doing Which is how I generally am with wildlife.

Thank you for appearing and showing me you exist Continue doing what you’re doing and I’ve had good luck with that as my strategy. Hopefully that will continue Yeah, I saw Hevelina and the whole

Tamara MC: family one night. Yeah, they travel in packs, and they’re all around my house, and I have a whole family.

There’s like 10 of them, and there’s all these babies, and they’re so, I mean, they look so cute. They do.

Alyson Shelton: They do look so cute. They look like something out of a cartoon, or like a storybook, you know.

Tamara MC: And they don’t like little dogs, and we have a little dog, so you have to

Alyson Shelton: be

Tamara MC: careful when you’re walking your dogs.

They will attack a dog, and so that’s like, something. So, so yeah, so the poem, and then like, we have rattlesnakes here, on my bike ride yesterday. I just crossed another rattlesnake, like, just part of our landscape here. And so, I liked that we were able to infuse that into the poem by the prompt itself. Yes, I did too.

I love that we could bring in nature, we could bring in food, we could bring in different family members, we could name family members. So, I thought that, that this poem really allowed

Alyson Shelton: Um, like very

Tamara MC: concrete, like very concrete words, like really interesting to be able to do that.

Alyson Shelton: So I agree. It’s been very liberating for me in my writing like, Oh, this is a good, it feels good to write it.

It feels good to hear it. Like it’s important. The specificity is really, yeah. For something. So well, thank you for joining me and being willing and being flexible because like you said you were scheduled for next year. So thank you for subbing in. Um, and thank you for all of your transparency and honesty.

I am sorry for your loss. I hope if you do write a poem about your friend that it brings you some, I don’t know, communion with him because I’m sure he’s around you. So, um, thank you for your time. I really

Tamara MC: appreciate it. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. And again, I just, I love listening to all of your guests that you have.

I’ve listened to all of them. Oh my God. I can say almost all. I mean, I, am I number one 20? You are. I knew it. Cause 119 was, I love numbers. So I love that I’m one 20 and I don’t go. He knows, but on 12, 31, 23, it’s going to be 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. So

Alyson Shelton: that’s exciting. I hadn’t thought of that. So thank you for pointing it out.

I love, I love how many people are excited about the number they have. Because, like, a lot of people are like, Oh, I’m so glad I’m, whatever, 114. I think that was Melissa. I think it was 117. And she was like, Oh, I’m so happy. And I thought, Oh, I’m so glad you’re happy. Cause, it’s random. Um, so. I’m glad you’re happy with

Tamara MC: 120.

Yeah, no, because it’s the one two. There’s a lot of one twos right now, like with like our dates in 2023. So there’s a lot of it. So, so thank you. And thank you to everybody that’s listening. And I hope I didn’t make anybody too sad. That wasn’t my intention.

Alyson Shelton: No, you didn’t. So don’t worry about it. Um, okay.

Thank you, everyone. Thank you. Bye.

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