Things I Learned from Taoism

1. The worst situations could be the best.

2. Allow yourself to be simple.

3. The best learning comes from living.

4. Be true to yourself.

5. Every life has a place and purpose.

6. Without causing, making, or doing; exert little effort against the natural order.

7. Do without doing and let nature take its course.

8. Things happen spontaneously.

9. Neutralize power instead of adding to it.

10. Maintain youth through enjoying life’s simplicity.

11. The journey is as important as the destination.

12. Realize your value without imitation and competition.

13. Compassion leads to wisdom.

14. With your resources, build a foundation little by little.

15. Nothing is something; keep an empty mind to achieve peace.

16. Emptiness is not the same as loneliness.

17. Loneliness is the result of having too much time and space to think.

18. In adulthood, being a wise child is the end of development.

Toastmasters

My 10 Favorite Toastmasters Speeches

Fellow Toastmasters and Medium Audience…

I joined Toastmasters on November 24, 2006. It was because of my training in public speaking that I am far more confident in my day-to-day life. I’m going to use this story to talk about some of my favorite speeches. I delivered over 100 speeches since I joined. I will never forget how I was enriched by nearly 12 years of experience. I won’t forget my champions, nor will I forget one particular person who was a huge antagonist of mine. She will be making some cameo appearances on this list. Here they are!

10. What Should Be Legalized

I never shied away from controversial topics during Toastmasters meetings. One example was a speech I gave about legalizing marijuana. I argued that it’s a huge commodity and that as a huge cash crop, it needed to be traded on the free market. It would improve our global economy, provide healing to the sick, and ultimately allow our farmers to harvest such a crop. On top of that, I argued that it was far less dangerous than alcohol. My evaluator was against its legalization, but she was completely swayed by my arguments. She changed her mind. It meant a lot to me that I could persuade someone to change their stance on a current issue.

9. Dot Comma

This was a particularly emotional speech about suicide. Dot comma refers to the combination of punctuation marks which make up the semicolon. The semicolon is a symbol representative of surviving suicide. I shared my experience with the Toastmasters audience and did so uneasily. Please refer to the “A humble request” post on Medium. This speech was in response to somebody saying that I was too crazy to kill myself. Little did she know I’d give a story about that attempt. She found a way to discredit me by objecting to my use of the word ‘damn’. Yes dammit, because dammit it’s just that damn offensive. Hot damn! Should I give a damn? HA!

8. Jeopardy! Audition

There was one time I auditioned for a little quiz show called Jeopardy! After passing the online test, I was called in to try out for the show. There was a written test, a mock game, and an interview session. Had I not seen Jesus Christ Superstar three days before the audition, there would have been one question I may not have gotten right during the mock game. The category was The Bible and I had to fill in the blank: Luke 19:46“ It is written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of” these people. I immediately rang in with “What are thieves?”

7. Be My Guest

One longstanding tradition in my house involves creative expression. As a gift, I got a coffee table book with blank glossy pages. I called it the guestbook. During a Chanukah party in 2013, I opened the book up for people to draw, write, paint, etc. It is now 2018 and this year, the book was retired. Every page was filled with excellent pieces of art and writing which I will always treasure. This was like my equivalent of the story, “Stone Soup”. Everybody communally contributed their respective talents to this guestbook. For this, I am truly grateful. The guestbook resides in my attic as a time capsule.

6. The Edith Kramer Evaluation

Edith Kramer was a pioneer in the field of art therapy. She established an evaluation for developmentally disabled children to assess traits such as fine motor skills and color conceptualization. There were three parts to this: drawing, painting, and sculpting. Part of learning about this process was taking the evaluation ourselves. With a pencil, I drew a bunch of vegetables I was looking forward to planting in a community garden. With watercolor, I painted an orange tree in the heart of Israel. The sculpture got deep though. With clay, I made a figure of myself in army fatigues and it had no arms. It wasn’t an amputee, but the arms were bound in a straitjacket. I also had a blue shoebox in which I kept these art pieces. I designed the inside of it like a padded cell to further illustrate how I felt in the moment. I was mourning the loss of my dad and used that figure to demonstrate the lack of power I felt and the level of hopelessness which pervaded my sentences. It was a very emotional speech, as I was recalling how I felt in that moment while I gave it.

5. Stereotype Assassin

In Staten Island, there is a public access show called Toastmasters In The Community. I delivered this speech on the show regarding how we are compelled to judge books by their covers. It was also a direct response to a certain woman’s constant remarks about my appearance. Whether this was a well-received speech from the people at home is uncertain. It was a message which needed to be delivered. There is more to me than meets the eye.

4. The Pulse of Orlando

Being a member of the LGBTQ community, I felt the need to opine on this subject. In 2016, there were 49 people shot at a gay nightclub called Pulse. It was especially meaningful not just because I am bisexual, but because it happened a day after my father’s memorial. One snafu I ran into was that it wasn’t an inspirational speech like the manual called for. I might have been having a bad day and made an error of judgment. In all seriousness, I would have been remiss if I didn’t cover it.

3. Bullying and Its Evolution

Around the time a girl from Staten Island took her own life, I gave a speech about how bullying exists throughout our lives. I touched not just upon how this girl was bullied, but also how bullying exists in the workplace. I especially noted in a political sense that today’s bullies are tomorrow’s politicians. It opened with a clip from Born This Way by Lady Gaga and took a turn toward how we can heal and how we can stop bullying. Ultimately, we need to lead by example.

2. Voiceless

This was one of the most important speeches I ever gave. For ten minutes, I spoke about how difficult it was to find my voice throughout life. It started with me not speaking until the age of 4 and led to stretches of self-consciousness through my youth. I gave myself an opportunity to read a monologue from The Glass Menagerie. It wasn’t the one I read in a monotone voice during a drama class, but one which was more evocative. However, there was triumph. I talked about how I got involved with poetry open mics and became a Toastmaster. It physically stunned me as I was recalling all these memories.

1. 27 Years Later

This speech was about my father and Nelson Mandela. Both died the same year. I talked about how my father was able to vote in then first free election for South Africa…while living in America. I mentioned how people with South African passports could vote at the United Nations. My father took that opportunity and was part of the landslide majority which elected Nelson Mandela in 1994. This brought the African National Congress to power and Apartheid was a thing of the past. Dad ran into a friend of the family at the UN. He was a flight attendant for South Africa Air who voted in the election during a layover in New York. Jazz musician Hugh Masekela was present, expressing his amazement at the turnout and the record number of ballots counted by legions of South Africans.

By far, this was the most important speech in the history of my career as a Toastmaster. I gave this speech for the Area in the International Speech Contest and won first prize. When I got to the Division, the applause I received was the longest applause of the night. I did not place, but I take comfort in the reception. The antagonist in my life claimed it was my hair. I claim that she was an insufferable and deranged human being who couldn’t truly be happy for anybody.

Retrospective (w/Citations)

Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration in January of 2021

When I first started writing poetry in 2002, I attended open mics at a cafe in Staten Island called Muddy Cup. During that period, my work was unabashedly political. Additionally, I became more open about my struggles with bipolar disorder. As I progressed as a writer, there were future places I called home. During the Alor Cafe years starting in 2010, I began to have work accepted for publication. The work during that period was mostly erotica. Starting in 2012, I featured as a performance poet at a DiY art gallery called Deep Tanks. These were my experimental years. In 2015, Richmond Hood Company was my next venue. During this era, I got into performing in poetry slams and wrote mostly comedic pieces. The current version of my craft is under my pseudonym, Jacob R. Moses. The poems written under this name are mostly spiritual. I have certainly taken on numerous personae throughout my career.

In comparison to current trends in poetry, I would say that I take elements of the craft commonly found on Button Poetry and reinvent it. Many of the poems expressed deal with personal adversity. Although I wrote extensively about taboo subjects surrounding my mental health and addiction issues, I would say that I have deviated from that format. Namely, I have thoroughly dealt with my past trauma and do not choose to constantly rehash these instances in my own poetic craft.

In my analysis of the works of famous poets, I have greatly improved my craft. One of my resources throughout this semester was The Poets Laureate Anthology (Schmidt). My initial foray into poetry was through Robert Frost. In sixth grade, I had to memorize a poem and chose “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”(Frost 551). I can safely say that as the father of an 18-year-old, two dogs, and three birds, I have “…miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep” (lines 15-16).

In selecting my ten poems for my Poetry Fundamentals class at SNHU, I noticed that there was a reflective theme present in my craft. I also noticed that I made people the subject of my work. In organizing my portfolio, I wanted to create a storyline. It isn’t a straight narrative, but it definitely has a timeline attached to it. Frost comes into effect as a source of imagery. The woods he speaks of are reminiscent of the beauty I’ve found in the woods in all the seasons. He as a muse also helped me write more succinct messages in my writing. If I learned anything this important in my craft, it is minimalism.

The feedback I received was mixed, but I was mostly impressed by the constructive criticism I received from both my peers and my professor. The best feedback I received was on “Bodega.” One student mentioned that the line “Sativa kept us modest” could have used more imagery. I agreed with this assessment and changed the words to “This fog had kept us modest” as a way to improve the image and continue the stream of imagery intended for this poem. On that same poem, a student made a comment about political derision in the 1980s. This was not a practical statement and did not give me an idea as to how I could improve.

In one instance, the poem “Collages of You” had some drastic changes made to it. What was an acrostic poem became more than just an acrostic poem. It was meant to show emotion without showing it, but didn’t show emotion initially. This was the feedback given by Dr. Sullivan. Since this feedback, I changed the title to “Collages of You” after it had been simply “Collages.” In another instance, I changed the pronouns from “you” to “she” in my poem originally titled, “March of the Amethyst Camel.” Since revisions, the title became, “Queen of the Caravan.”

Constructive feedback in poetry entails showing what parts of a poem works and what can make the intended message more effective. It’s being able to spot instances where an image could be illustrated with more depth. It’s being able to spot excessive verbiage, cliches, and mixed metaphors. The greatest constructive feedback is not to change the message, but to help your peers improve upon the messages and vice versa.

In choosing feedback to offer, I chose one poet who left the feedback about the 1980s and reviewed his work. I wanted to make sure my focus was strictly on the work itself. I offered the following feedback to him. Conjunctions need to be minimal. Prepositions can be replaced by punctuation. Streamline the message by using as few words and limited voice as possible. I have offered a similar critique to my fellow students.

Using this same instance as an example, I further discovered the aesthetic importance of writing a poem. Ultimately, I learned that not just every word matters. Every placement of a word matters as well. The word “and” in a poem can disrupt its flow. This is often true when “and” begins a verse.

In poems I’ve read on The Poetry Foundation website, I developed a greater insight as to how I could better aesthetically organize my words. Poetry is unique in that there are no restraints and one need not necessarily flush their words to the right hand side of the page or separate letters in words. This is especially true with ee cummings; a poet who was often referred to as the “typesetter’s nightmare.” In his poem “(“crazy jay blue)…”)”, he writes, “thief cook cynic/ (swimfloatdrifting/fragment of heaven)/trickstervillain” (cummings 191). During this class, I took especially kind to cummings, as he inspired me to write “for suheir hammad (after ee cummings).”

As I analyzed works presented in the class (and read independently), I cannot stress the importance of the aesthetics. In many successful poems, the lines are usually in alignment not just with the left margin, but with the end words. In “Elegy [“I think by now the river must be thick”]” (Trethewey), it is worth noting that the second lines of each couplet align with each other on the right. There is a stairway effect created between each line.

I have had a total of 158 poems published throughout my career as a poet. When my work first started getting accepted, I noticed that the more minimal poems were getting the greatest number of acceptances. It led me to believe that my more compact pieces made for better reading. I learned throughout two decades that the most effective pieces of writing said a mouthful of sweetness with just a spoonful of sugar.

The quality of my poetry improved based on the specific prompts which were given. I learned how to work within the parameters to write something effective. I am usually used to writing longer poems, so it was a welcome challenge to have a specific number of lines with which to write. Although I have found great success as a poet, I still want to grow. This will be especially true when I begin writing my thesis and compile a larger portfolio. I hope that this will be publishable material for a new book.

In crafting my final product, some of my revisions were based on which words worked with one another and which words provided awkwardness. As someone who is a stage poet as well as a page poet, it’s important to make sure the words can be spoken as much as they can be read. In other cases, I catered to superstition. I did not want to see duplicates of initial letters in this portfolio. I had two poems which began with the letter B. To fix this, I kept the title of “Bodega” and changed the title of “Blood Moon Eclipse 2021” to “Under the Lunar Eclipse.” I also felt the change would provide more of an evocative image. “Collages” became “Collages of You” to reflect the subject of love and attraction. “Ace-Deuce-Tray” became “One Eyed Jack” to give the poem a preview which was autobiographical. Ultimately, the order in which these poems was presented was told in the reflections of a middle-aged man reflecting upon his life. The rest are written in chronological order based on the time of these memories.

My future as a poet boils down to this. I want to keep writing. I want to keep communicating. If I am not learning, I am not growing. As I continue to pursue poetry as a concentration in graduate school, I want to remain inspired by the likes of Rupi Kaur, Brandon Leake, and Amanda Gorman. I am inspired by how these three poets have taken this artform and brought it back to the human consciousness. Poetry tends to go in and out of vogue in the public eye. I will continue to keep submitting my work and I will continue to read my poetry on stage. I will also continue to tour around New York City with my current book of poetry, Grimoire (Moses).

In the future, I hope to be recognized for my craft. I want to continue pursuing this poetry concentration at SNHU. I want to keep selling copies of Grimoire. Most importantly, I have a goal of becoming a poet laureate. Staten Island got its first poet laureate in the summer of 2019. By 2023, there should be a new poet laureate application process. I will be applying and I will certainly be praying that I get selected.

Works Cited

cummings, ee. “(“crazy jay blue)…”)”. Poetry, 1950. p. 191. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=25515. Accessed 19 Dec. 2021

Moses, Jacob R. Grimoire. ii Publishing, 2021.

Schmidt, Elizabeth Hun. The Poets Laureate Anthology “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. Library of Congress, 2010. p551.

Trethewey, Natasha. “Elegy [“I think by now the river must be thick”]”. Thrall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57695/elegy-i-think-by-now-the-river-must-be-thick. Accessed 19 Dec. 2021.

Paraphrasing my Academic Advisor’s Review of Grimoire

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If you are just getting to know me and my craft, it is important to note that I am currently a graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University. I am pursuing a Masters in English and Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry. My academic advisor, Colin McGahan, gave me input on his favorite poems from Grimoire…so far. I just got off the phone with him and he offered the following feedback. These are poems which stood out to him and I will paraphrase what he told me.

Landmark of Light

Colin told me that this struck a chord with him based on him knowing my backstory as a poet. I started writing poetry a year and a day after 9/11. This poem was written about the 20th anniversary of said tragedy and how I was riding home on the Staten Island Ferry on 9/11/2019 as the lights representing the Twin Towers were glowing. Given that he knows I’m a New Yorker and got to know my backstory, this poem may not have hit him the same if he didn’t know me from Adam. I’m glad that he mentioned this particular one, as it is a sentimental favorite.

VISION QUEST

This poem stood out to Colin because it reminded him of his wife’s grandfather. I wrote this as a tribute to my father; as I recalled a memory of us releasing two catfish into Martling’s Pond in Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island). As the poem progresses, I mention two fishermen talking about finding catfish in the pond and thought about how they must have spawned and repopulated the pond. Colin reminisced about his father-in-law and looked at his soul and memory both fondly and wistfully.

WILLOW IN THE WIND

Colin’s daughter is fond of weeping willows, so this immediately stood out to him. In this poem, I was inspired by a quote from Bruce Lee (“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”) Many know that my title is Wizard of Willow. This is because I practice magick and frequent Willowbrook Park (Staten Island) on a regular basis. Naturally, I connect to this particular tree for this reason. Also, I relate to the resilience of the tree. I have been through a lot of adversity in my life and weeping willows represent how I’ve moved at times where I could have been broken. Colin read this piece to his daughter and she loved it. This is especially profound since his family is moving and there is a weeping willow near their future property.

WHEN YOU CAN’T DREAM

This poem reminded Colin of his issues with sleep paralysis. This is one condition I certainly do not wish upon anybody. I wrote this poem in relation to the uncomfortable sleep I was having during the very beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic in April of 2020. It also relates to having a mental health diagnosis (bipolar disorder) and trying to maintain balance during a time where the planet is greatly unbalanced. Colin mentioned he was afflicted with the aforementioned condition and how much of a struggle it can be to sleep and even more of a struggle to dream. I was really glad he related to this, especially since I am in a group on Facebook called Quarantine Dreams.

More to come…

CW: Suicide

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I haven’t kept a blog in an incredibly long time. This is a routine I need to get back into, because catharsis is incredibly important for me. In fact, catharsis is crucial. There is a sense of vulnerability I know needs to be shown. I need to be more human. I need to feel more human.

I have been plagued by flashbacks. In one instance, they are often triggered by flashing lights from ambulances, police cars, and fire engines. In another, a video in which people were being rescued from situations where they were inches away from death left me crying hysterically. It’s because I’ve had a near death experience. I’ve been there. This is is a story which needs to be written not only for my own peace of mind, but for anybody who has ever been close to death. Specifically, it’s for those who put themselves in this position. It’s for those who have attempted suicide.

I spent a good year suffering from depression. All of the poetry I wrote was centred around how much I was hurting and how much I wanted to die. My room-mate at the time never understood the extent of my depression. My parents were oblivious, as they never detected that I couldn’t speak, concentrate, or even get out of bed.

The turning point was when my girlfriend and I got engaged and we were stressed to the nines. My moods were swinging back and forth while I was looking for a second job and trying to get medical insurance. The open mic I regularly went to at a café in Staten Island shut down and I had lost my ability to cope. It was on that stage where I proposed to her.

Two weeks later, it happened. I got into a fight with my parents and it led me to reach my breaking point. I walked out of my job and went to a bar. The drink I chose was a Long Island Iced Tea, which I chugged. I left and made a B line for the City Hall subway station. Soon after, I went down the stairs, swiped my MetroCard to pay the fare, and jumped onto the tracks with the R train in the distance. I was prepared to die, waving my arms as I was about to say goodbye. As the train got closer, someone pulled me out of this pit of rats, poison, and electricity. The rest was hazy, but I remember being put into an ambulance and heading to the psychiatric ward.

Maybe I will tell the rest of the story on another occasion. Long story short, I spent a month in the hospital and lost my friends. With my now ex-fiancée, it was a blessing and a curse. I am very much involved in my son’s life at this point, so I can shrug it off, as I am not as vulnerable on that front.

According to The Observer, 84 people died from train-related deaths between January and August of 2012. As I look at this statistic, I think of things I never thought of before I tried to kill myself. I didn’t think of how many people I would traumatise. I didn’t think of how I would have ripped apart the lives of my family. I didn’t think of the passengers or those waiting for the train. I didn’t think of a lot of things.

My aunt committed suicide by way of hanging. It destroyed my father when this happened. I’d go onto Facebook groups which cater to suicide survivors. It’s strange to be on both ends and to understand how suicide shattered lives. I have one request that I’ve been wanting to make for a while.

I want to meet the person who rescued me so I can thank him. This would be the ultimate solace. Sir — it is because of you that I am still standing here on this earth and because of you, I have seen what good life has to offer. To those reading this, please make this post viral, as I need to make peace and amends with this great man. It’s with great pleasure that I had a hero in him.