AN EXERCISE IN GRATITUDE: JUST MAYBE 2020 WAS NOT ALL BAD
“Gratitude” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as “[t]he state of being grateful; thankfulness; the state or quality of being grateful or thankful; a warm and friendly feeling in response to a favor or favors received; thankfulness.” I thought it was quite instructive that the words “thankfulness” and “grateful” were used twice in the definition. Expressing gratitude or thankfulness is something that I am not particularly good at. Even though Marilyn is constantly expressing the value and importance of gratitude, I tend to take things for granted and just move on to the next thing. I am starting to realize that is just not a very healthy attitude.
I generally detest end of year summaries, but I think that this one is important. It is the only one that I have every written. Yes, 2020 has been a shit storm of a year, and I am still struggling with the idea that 2019 was the absolute best year of my life, and 2020 has been one of the worst. Sometimes, I wondered if 2019 even really happened. However, the year did give me a greater awareness of the privilege that I have. Yes, I struggled with depression and anxiety and had to increase my medication and was not able to spend time with my friends or take part in the activities that I normally enjoy, but I did not lose my job or my business, struggle financially, or even lose my life or that of a loved one. Nonetheless, I am going to review and focus on the good things that happened to me in 2020 and express gratitude for those things and more importantly those people who influenced and inspired me and made the year more tolerable.
Some of you may think that this post is entirely too self-indulgent or selfish, and that is fine. One of the things that I had to do this year was resume counseling, albeit online through BetterHelp. It took a while, but I think that I have bonded somewhat with my counselor, Darcel Elliott, and I am thankful for the help and wise counsel that she has provided to me. I did discuss this post with her at length, and we both agreed that this was something that I had to do. If it makes you feel any better, in the coming year, I am hoping to become less self-centered and much more aware that not everything (in fact very few things) are about me.
Little did we know the kind of year we were ushering in when we had our annual New Year’s Eve Party with our close friends (who have really become our family), Wendi Sue Webb, Rich Webb, Stephanie Parish, and Jay Rife. The theme was the Roaring 20’s, and it was a whole lot of fun. It was also one of the very few times that the six of us were able to get together during the year, and both Wendi and Rich contracted the Covid-19 virus.
In January, we also attended the Tommy Lehman Quintet’s “Live at BLU Jazz+ Album Recording,” which resulted in my poem “BLU.” The poem proved to be instrumental (pun intended) later in the year regarding our participation in the Akron On Deck Playing Card Project.
January also was the beginning of a year that proved to be both rewarding and stressful. I was both shocked and surprised to receive the letter from Jason Blakely informing me that my first poetry collection entitled “If There’s No Heaven” had been selected as the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is life Book Award and would be published in May. I was humbled and honored that the words that I put on paper were able to connect with others in such a meaningful way. However, by the time my book was published, the Covid-19 virus was raging across the state and the country, and my book launch party and all my scheduled promotional readings and activities had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, Jason became an important source of inspiration and support throughout the year.
In January, Marilyn and I also attended the Vibe Collective’s 2nd Anniversary Party, which was held at the Art x Love Studio and Gallery in downtown Akron. Amber Cullen has been a person that has continually inspired me on many different levels. Her thoughtful and humorous #bankerbabe and “checking in” (another pun intended) posts were most definitely one of the things that kept me going throughout the year. I was also able to contribute to Amber’s blog post entitled “10 Ways to Partner with Community Artists in the New Year.” What I said then is even more important now: “I see [VIBE Collective] as an essential group that brings together many diverse and unique artists of every medium for the purpose of mutual support, encouragement, and promotion, while at the same time giving those artists opportunities and platforms to share their talents in the greater community ... I have met so many wonderful people through VIBE Collective that I would probably not have otherwise met and that I now count among my friends. VIBE Collective has been very important to the development of my poetry career, and really helped launch it.”
Marilyn and I also met the fabulous artist, Marcella Chapman, and sampled more than once her amazing homemade macaroni and cheese. Marcella became a very valued friend, and we were able to collaborate on a couple of projects during the year. Marcella painted an amazing picture to go along with my poem “Devil in the Rose Window,” I wrote a poem to go along with her “Ballerina” painting, and she painted a picture of two owls for us, since owls are the spirit animals for our relationship. As an aside, my friend, Constance Plumley commented on the Devil poem by saying, “Quite a leap for the elegant and brave Barbara Marie Minney.” Constance was also a huge source of encouragement, support, and inspiration throughout the year. Marcella and I also had some discussions about creating ways in which we could use our artistic talents to promote healing and bring a very divided community together. I hope that we can continue these discussions and our collaborations in the coming year.
My hair is a huge part of my identity as a transgender woman, and in January, I got my fabulous new hair system. Another person that helped keep me going throughout the year with her good humor, friendly banter, and wonderful personalized service was Lesley Anderson at Hair Technologies. I consider Lesley to be much more than my hairdresser. She provided much needed therapy and has become a treasured friend.
In February, three of my poems were included in the anthology, “The Gasconade Review Presents: Ladies’ Night,” which was made even more special since this was an all-women’s issue, and two of my poems were selected to appear in the anthology “For A Better World 2020: Poems and Drawings on Peace and Justice, which was published in May. Marilyn and I also attended Poetry and Open Mic Night at the Bistro at the Arabica Coffee Bistro in Amherst. We did not know it at the time, but that was one of the very few live open mics that we were able to attend during the year.
In February, I was also interviewed by Lou Barrett for the column that she was doing for Autostraddle, which was published in March. https://www.autostraddle.com/respect-your-elders-tea-with-trans-lesbian-poet-barbara-marie-minney/?fbclid=IwAR3BV6aEAJO1Y-cjd7lLyWg4gf8V5rdI9HWfoGRkE50CWf9ulrx4B1KQmUg We both agreed that the interview and our interactions with each other were “fucking incredible!!!”
Marilyn and I were also able to have our annual Mardi Gras dinner at the Ido Bar & Grill and attend the CANAPI Big Band Brunch at Jilly’s Music Room right before the shit hit the fan and all hell broke loose in our lives. We enjoyed dancing to the sounds of the Western Reserve Big Band.
We were able to take a short trip to Florida, but it was totally different this year. While we were able to enjoy some much-needed beach time in the sunshine, I had lots of headaches and the Covid-19 pandemic hit while we were there. On the trip back, we stayed isolated in our compartment on the train, did not go to dinner, and did not interact with any other passengers. Maybe we were a little paranoid, but it was just the beginning of a whole lot of social isolation during the remainder of the year.
In March, my poem “Bubble Wrap” was included in “Women Scream: International Poetry Anthology of Female Voices.” I did a video of the poem, which was posted in the playlist “Woman Scream Festival 2020-Poetry in Quarantine.” In March, I was also featured in Episode 1 of Akron Soul Train’s Soulful Sunday, and I was featured again in June. Marilyn and I also started our “in-car picnics” as a way of preserving our sanity and getting out of the house.
In April, I had one of my poems shared by the Coshocton County Public Library and another poem shared as part of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s “Read+Write: 30 Days of Poetry.” I also had three of my poems used in the Poetry Society of Indiana’s “Social Distancing Social for Poets,” which was quite exciting.
In May, two of my poems were included with so many other wonderful poets in “The Voices of Real 4” published by Poetry Is Life Publishing, and a video of my poem “Imperfect Strangers” was posted by the Women of Appalachia Project. Finally, the big day arrived. My book, “If There’s No Heaven” was published. Marilyn surprised me with balloons, a cake, and an owl. The publication of the book was featured in both the Devil Strip Magazine and the Cleveland Scene Magazine.
In June, Marilyn and I were able to get away for a few days in the very private and isolated Berlin Woods Treehouses for a writing and spiritual retreat. Also, in June I was excited to facilitate my very first poetry workshop in-person and virtually at the Up Front Art Space in Cuyahoga Falls. The workshop focused on blackout poetry and a guided free writing exercise on how to turn your dreams into poems. I thought that the workshop was a success.
Also, in June, I participated in the “Women Speak” Virtual Performance of the Women of Appalachia Project, and my book, “If There’s No Heaven” was reviewed in the Akron Beacon Journal. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/lifestyle/2020/06/19/book-talk-powerful-teen-offers-brutal-tale-of-survival/42240561/
I also participated in the inaugural Thursday Night Open Mic sponsored by the Athens County Poets & Storytellers facilitated by Stephanie Kendrick and Kari Gunter-Seymour. I was also thrilled to be invited to be the featured reader in August, and I thought that my reading was very well received. My relationship with the group was sometimes a bit rocky, but I appreciated the support and encouragement that I received throughout the year from Stephanie, and I did “meet” some other wonderful poets, singers, and storytellers, including Jonie McIntire, who became an important source of inspiration and support that helped me to survive the year. Finally, Marilyn and I made an important decision to refer to ourselves as the “Sassy Lassies.” We were grasping for any straw to maintain a semblance of normalcy and good humor in the midst of the pandemic.
In July, my poem “Justification” was selected to be published in the “Summer 2020 Issue of Wicked Gay Ways,” and my poem about my maternal grandfather entitled “Shooting Crows In The Cornfield” was selected to be published in “Gargoyle Magazine #73” due out around Memorial Day in 2021. I was extremely honored to be asked to take part in a panel discussion on “The Weight of Words” in connection with an exhibit by Shani Richards at the Akron Soul Train. That was an extremely rewarding experience for me.
On August 8th, Marilyn and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary by going out to one of the few restaurant sit-down dinners that we experienced during the year, and on October 7th, we celebrated the second anniversary of our vow renewal ceremony as two women. I also had two of my poems selected for publication in “The Voices of Real 5 Poetry Compilation Book.”
In September, I was pleased that one of my poems was selected to once again be included in the “Women of Appalachia Project’s Women Speak,” and I participated in the Clarksburg-Harrison Library Virtual Performance. Marilyn and I also took another much-needed writing and spiritual retreat to the Berlin Woods Treehouses.
In October, Marilyn and I were selected to be the Ten of Clubs in the amazing Akron on Deck Project, which you can read more about here: https://www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com/post/we-are-the-ten-of-clubs-akron-on-deck My book, “If There’s No Heaven,” also received a wonderful and affirming review by Lou Barrett, which I appreciated immensely.
I also became acquainted with Ken Schneck through his virtual presentation on Shameless Self- Promotion at the Fall Literary Festival sponsored by Lit Youngstown, and he became an important influence during the year. You can read more about his presentation here, and he also published two of my articles in The Buckeye Flame. https://www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com/post/shameless-self-promotion-with-ken-schneck-or-buy-my-book
In November, I was extremely honored to be asked to participate, as both a poet and an artist, in the “Inside Out Trans Art Project” created by Jay DeFazio. You can read more about this amazing project here: https://www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com/post/celebrating-the-inside-out-trans-art-project
In November, Marilyn and I were also extremely honored to be included in the “Portraits of Pride Project.” I also created an author page on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20819684.Barbara_Marie_Minney?fbclid=IwAR3sPaLIXtccONoOir91nsqrXNCuKmkFbsCmIhkoZnWwGNPfWidjYtdKdpI
I was also absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to tell my story and talk about my poetry in an interview on the Podcast/Radio Show TRANSBRUH: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20819684.Barbara_Marie_Minney?fbclid=IwAR3sPaLIXtccONoOir91nsqrXNCuKmkFbsCmIhkoZnWwGNPfWidjYtdKdpI I was also interviewed again by Emma Lugo and had the opportunity to talk about and read some of my poetry on the radio show “Transpositive,” a biweekly program in Portland exploring themes important to those who identify as transgender. https://www.kboo.fm/media/100008-interview-barbara-marie-minney
Finally, the year ended a very high note. My book of poems, “If There’s No Heaven” was selected by the Akron Beacon Journal as one of the Best Northeast Ohio Books in 2020.
A lot of good things happened to me in the shit storm of a year that 2020 turned out to be and a lot of people inspired, encouraged, and supported me, for which I am eternally grateful. I would remiss if I did not mention the monthly massage and therapy sessions with Shay Somerville-Shropshire, who has become a very dear friend. It also looks like Marilyn and I may have found a church community after being without one for over twenty-five years. The Christ-centered messages of the First Congregational Church of Akron and the Senior Minister, Nanette Pitt, have been a source of inspiration and comfort throughout this difficult and unprecedented year.
Let us hope and pray that the coming year is a whole lot better.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and is available at www.poetryislifepublishing.com. Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.