Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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Claim Your Inheritance with Teresa K. Miller

Claim Your Inheritance with Teresa K. Miller

Teresa K. Miller's poetry collection, BORDERLINE FORTUNE, won the prestigious National Poetry Series and has been featured on radio programs and book festivals across the country. However, not long ago, Teresa nearly gave up writing, after one too many publishing heartbreaks. In this episode, she and Annmarie unpack that story, compare family legacies, and ponder what truly makes a life worth living.

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Books by Teresa K. Miller:

Borderline Fortune

Sped

Food First: Selected Writings from 40 Years of Movement Building



Other Books and Music mentioned in this episode:

The Book of Light, by Lucille Clifton

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit

The Master Letters: Poems, by Lucie Brock-Broido



Follow Teresa K. Miller:

Facebook: @spedtkm

Twitter: @TeresaKMiller

teresakmiller.net

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Broadway Books, a locally owned independent bookstore that's been happily supplying books to readers in Northeast Portland, Oregon and beyond since 1992. Broadway Books hosts dynamic events that feature both established and emerging writers. We support neighborhood schools and literary organizations and hire people who are knowledgeable and passionate about what we sell in order to keep our stock fresh and eclectic. Find your next great read or shop online at broadwaybooks.net. And we're brought to you by the Ashland University low res MFA, where our accomplished faculty help you find your voice and complete your degree at your own pace. Learn more and enroll today ashland.edu.

Annmarie Kelly:
My kids recently came across a family tree I made in the third grade. There on a faded piece of notebook paper, etched in pencil, where the halting names of our ancestors, the Scarpettis, Sylvestris, and Flahertys. The dead who went before us. Ghosts and memories of people my children had never known beside my own name on a magic markered tree. And just like that, I was transported back to this day in my grandparents' house on Jesse Avenue, when I was made to interview my grandpa Orland about his family, I didn't like my Italian grandpa very much. My Irish grandpa Kel was fun. A talker who could usually be counted on for a bit of candy while he regaled us with stories of flying airplanes across the country in World War II. By contrast, grandpa Orland was sullen. He worked nights at the city bus depot and slept during the day.

Annmarie Kelly:
On the occasion of that school assignment, he was about as eager to be seated there with me as I was to be sitting with him. But he told me about our coal miner cousins in Oklahoma, and didn't correct me when I spelled his mother's name, Concetta, with two Ns, two As, and two Ts. When grandpa Orland died of suicide a few years later, I would often come back to that afternoon. Why hadn't I been nicer to him? If I had said something different or tried harder to make a connection, could I have saved him? These were the natural musings of a 12 year old girl who didn't know about mental illness or the way a single afternoon spent in the company of a child you barely know is no antidote to a lifetime battle with depression. For years, though, I wondered. I even blamed myself for not realizing his gruffness masked sadness and pain.

Annmarie Kelly:
Today's guest has written about love and trauma and what is left behind in our hearts by family who came before us, both those we've known and ancestors whose DNA we share. What will be our legacy? Not just for our children if we have them, but for generations, for our country, for this Earth. And she manages to put all of these big ideas into poems. So let me tell you about Teresa.

Annmarie Kelly:
Teresa K. Miller's poetry collection Borderline Fortune won the prestigious National Poetry Series and has been featured on radio programs and book festivals across the country. A graduate of the Mills College MFA program, Teresa has published poems and essays in LitHub, Common Dreams, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. Originally from Seattle, she tends a mini orchard near Portland, Oregon. Teresa K. Miller. Welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Teresa K. Miller:
Thank you so much for having me.

Annmarie Kelly:
We are really glad to have you here to talk about your recent poetry book, Borderline Fortune, and also perhaps to talk about inheritance, what we leave behind, what we seek, and when it comes to our interconnectedness on this planet, what responsibilities we have to one another. However, before we get to all those giant questions, I wonder if you can just answer our traditional opening question, which just asks writers and creative folks to tell us what they're about and tell us their story.

Teresa K. Miller:
Sure. Yeah. I mean, it's a big question. There are a lot of ways to tell a story, but I was born and raised in West Seattle, the fourth generation on my mom's side to grow up in West Seattle, which is a little rare. And I got interested in poetry, I think, before conscious memory. My mom read me poetry when she was pregnant with me. So it was just in the air already by the time my memories came online. I think the first poem I wrote was at daycare when I was four, in crayon, just because I was bored and seemed like the thing to do. And then I went to this really cool alternative school that my best friend's mom ran, where we had science for half an hour once a week, but we wrote every single day.

Teresa K. Miller:
So I just thought that's what you do. And it's been my passion all along. But I had the good fortune while I was at Barnard to work with Saskia Hamilton, who is still a professor there, and now I think a vice provost through a grant program at Barnard called the Centennial Scholars Program. So I got to work with her one on one, semester after semester and put together a portfolio and she ended up helping me apply to MFA programs. So then that's when I got into the more professionalization of poetry, if there is such a thing in earnest. And then out of grad school, I published a chat book with a small press called Tarpaulin Sky, and after that I published a full length book called Sped with a small press called Sidebrow that's based now between San Francisco and Portland.

Teresa K. Miller:
And then after what felt like this very long wander in the wilderness where I basically had decided I wasn't going to write anymore, I turned out this manuscript for myself and I thought, "Okay, this is just going to be a Word file." Finished it the weekend that the National Poetry Series contest closed, which is like filing your taxes if you're a poet. If you have something you send it in and don't expect anything out of it. So about six days after I had decided that I wasn't going to write anymore probably because it was too painful and it wasn't going anywhere, I got an email saying that I was a finalist, which had happened before and I thought, "Okay, well that's a nice sign from the universe. Maybe I'll keep going." And then the day after my birthday while we were still fully pro-vaccine COVID land, I got a call from the former poet laureate of California saying that I had won the National Poetry Series with Borderline Fortune. So that was the journey to get to this particular conversation.

Annmarie Kelly:
So even though you had written a book, you still felt like, "I'm not going to do this anymore." What was the distance between Sped and Borderline Fortune?

Teresa K. Miller:
So Sped came out in 2013 and I had been shopping various versions of it for about five years before it came out. And I had written another book pretty quickly after that I decided... Just trying to apply, I guess, my science brain or my practical brain to it, I need to have another book within two years and that's the plan and I'm going to have this book and I'm going to publish it. And I did write a book about a year and a half afterwards and I still think that it's good and I hope it goes somewhere someday. And it kept being a finalist. The always a bridesmaid, never a bride kind of situation. So it got good feedback, "This is so great, but," and I felt like I had played out all the possibilities for it.

Teresa K. Miller:
So by the time I wrote Borderline Fortune, like I said, it was for my myself. I thought I was just talking to myself and I felt like I was getting into some more dangerous territory with just things around my family and looking at my relationship to the intangible, metaphysical inheritance that I had had from them. And there's a lot of resistance in general to speaking ill of the dead, but I think particularly in my family, that's a taboo. So I thought I'm just writing this thing for myself and it's not going to go anywhere and I've gotten it out, and if it's not going to go anywhere, then what's the point? So it was in 2020 when I finished it up and sent it out and then-

Annmarie Kelly:
And first off, no one finished anything in 2020, so what is your magic? Because in 2020 zero people finished anything.

Teresa K. Miller:
Well, the thing about this book is that it's precisely pre-pandemic because it was literally March 14th when I realized, "Oh, this is real." And it was this very strange situation where I went to my gym and I didn't realize it was going to be the last time I went, because some people were saying this is nothing and some people were saying this is terrible, but we were still in that place where it was like, "Maybe people are overreacting." And I went to my gym and I just realized... I've been certified as a personal trainer since college. So my gym was a thing. It was part of my routine. And I got there and realized I was so paranoid and I just felt this sense of wanting to get away from everyone around me. And I walked outside and I thought, "I'm never going there again, at least as long as this is going on."

Teresa K. Miller:
And even though it was mid-March, it had started to snow. So it was this very... Which is not really a thing in Oregon in March. So it was just this strange, surreal situation where I'm not going here anymore, I feel like life is about to change for us, I have this intense sense of foreboding, now it's snowing, my car skidded into our driveway when I got home. And I said to my partner, "I don't think we're going out again for a while." And that evening and the next morning I thought, "Well, I'm just going to finish up this thing that I've been working on," and I sent it on the 15th, which was the due date. And it was just dismissive. So yeah, by the time it got picked up the world was completely different. It was this time capsule.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's amazing. It's part apocalyptical and also part signs from the heavens. Even the weather... Here's this thing. You've always been this gym trainer person girl, and you're not going to be that for a while. And here's this weather that never happens and it is, and here's this pandemic coming and right before... I don't know, it's Raiders of the Lost Ark where he reaches back for his hat and the gate is closing. I don't know, right before it all closed out, you punt this manuscript into the world, a maneuver you're telling me you did before. So Borderline Fortune, for folks who don't know, won the National Poetry Series. This is a big deal. But you're saying you had tried for this before.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yes. So what did I figure out? It was eight times over 14 years. I submitted.

Annmarie Kelly:
Eight books? Or this one? Variations there-

Teresa K. Miller:
Four different books. So this is the thing... Like I said, there are different ways to tell a story. So one way I could tell the Borderline Fortune story is very Instagram-worthy and super obnoxious, which is, "I wrote this book in 10 months and I finished it up the day it was due and I submitted it to the National Poetry Series. It's the first place I submitted it and it won. Who knows? I'm just that awesome." But that's not really the story. The story is I started submitting other books to the National Poetry Series right out of grad school, or I think even my last year in grad school. So over a period of 14 years, I submitted four different books for a total of eight times. Three of them were finalists, including this one. Sped was a finalist, but went on to be published by Sidebrow.

Teresa K. Miller:
So it was just rejection, rejection, rejection, close but not quite, rejection, rejection, close but not quite. So, like I said, it was a nudge from the universe. Like, "No, keep going" when I got that finalist notice, but I also thought "This has happened before and it didn't lead to publication." So yeah, I've said it felt winning the lottery at the end of an ultra-marathon. The ultra-marathon is you have to have the goods. You have to have a book that's worth publishing, but then the last step it's really a lottery, is your book the right one that year for the anonymous judge who you don't know, who doesn't know you, because it's all anonymously judged, do the stars align? And this time they did.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow. Well I'm all about holding multiple stories. So I think both the Instagram and the long form journalistic interpretation of the story, I think they can both simultaneously exist. And depending on the audience you break one out or the other. But I have to sit with this idea that you can do everything right. You can... And I have that in quotation marks, you can write every day in preschool, you can study with a master, you can have a great portfolio and you can, like you said, you can have the goods, but it still might not work out right away, for some people probably not at all. But I'm going to say maybe just not right away, you might not be able to live off of your art. I know that to be true for many creative folks and that's a difficult truth to hold because I want to believe that the merit of the thing.

Annmarie Kelly:
But you're right, fit, does what you've written fit that moment. My goodness. They were reading... I can picture those judges reading your pages with the crash of the pandemic, just on top of them. And they're looking for something in your words, they're looking for a raft to hold onto while they're being thrown about, but they're also looking for acknowledgement that we are all in this thing being thrown about. So your book does capture both of those things. Well, I'm glad for you. And I love the idea that this was a multiple... I mean, it probably wasn't great for you to have to live inside of that, to be writing, writing, writing, and not feeling like it's going anywhere. I mean, we've all had, as a writerly person, that doubt where you write a sentence, you thought was good, then you look at it in the morning and you delete it or you scratch it out or you set it on fire. But out of the ashes is the phoenix of something new. So what do you do with this recognition then? Is it fuel for your fire? Are you writing seven more books or is it like, "Oh my gosh. Now what?" Is the reward for the art well done enough?

Teresa K. Miller:
It's all of the above and it's something different as well. What you're saying about trying and trying and trying and not necessarily getting there when you want to, or maybe ever I think is very true. And one of the things that I've learned from this experience is this was the thing. This was the thing that I wanted. This was the thing that I was trying for for 14 years. Even when I was a baby poet starting grad school, this was the brass ring. And I got it and that's amazing. And I feel very fortunate. I don't take it for granted. And it's so interesting to be on the other side of that goal and to realize it's not really about the goal, it's about the process. So that's why I come back to that idea.

Teresa K. Miller:
I'm not just saying what I think I'm supposed to say or some platitude when I say I would really to just always be 75% of the way through a manuscript, because that's the good stuff. That really is the good stuff. This award is lovely. It has launched a lot of poet's careers. May it launch mine into a bigger sphere, that would be wonderful. And it's not poetry itself. You win this and then you get a contract from a publishing company, which is so many writers' dreams, but you're like "Oh, it's a business deal" and you negotiate your contract and you do the things you're supposed to do and you take it through copy editing. And none of that is the poetry itself.

Teresa K. Miller:
And it's lovely and it's a vehicle to get the poetry out there. But none of that is the state of flow. None of that is this really spiritual... Just earth transcending practice of actually being in that moment of creation. So as grateful as I am, it's just also been super interesting to adjust my perspective, to get to the other side and say, "Oh this goal was just a thing." And the important part is the writing and to keep being engaged with the writing. I mean, literally I had made, and I wrote an essay about this in lit hub, I had made this very strange perfectionist bargain with myself from a pretty early age where I didn't know if I wanted kids. And I thought, "Well, if I won this award or I won an award like this, then that would be good enough and I wouldn't need to have kids."

Teresa K. Miller:
Which just now is bonkers, on the other side of winning this award, because this is an arbitrary thing that people made up and it's cool. And it creates this interesting community and it gets your work out there. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether you're called to have children. So just realizing even the act of getting published, if that's your main goal and you're chasing it, yeah, nobody can guarantee that you're ever going to get published and it's really arbitrary and it's external. So this process has just taught me, how do I go back inside and stay involved with the work and keep a loose grip on all the other stuff, because it can be beneficial, but it's not the thing itself.

Annmarie Kelly:
So I'm thinking about this idea that what happens after you get the thing you always dreamed of? What happens after you get the person, the award, the thing that you always dreamed that you'd get, what do you do then? And I think that, I guess, you maybe adjust your dreams and you realize that all along, you thought that was a dream, but that was actually not, the dream was the work itself, the gift of a beautifully written sentence, the gift of a well painted sunrise, the gift of conversation between two kindred souls. That the journey through the creative work is the gift. It is the dream. That dance actually is the whole thing and we distract ourselves. We think that the reward for the art done is the fellowship or the publication. And it is, in a capitalistic world, those things are helpful. Because you can use them to buy food, but that actually the dream is to be able to do the work and how blessed you are and how blessed we are that you get to keep doing that.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah. I think that's exactly right. And I know you've had multiple long distance hiker trekker people on your show and that's actually one of my callings as well. I love a good through hike, a good 20 plus mile through hike through just insanely rugged terrain gaining... I mean the one I did last summer, we gained 2000 feet of elevation in a mile over the course of a 19 and a quarter mile through hike in one day in the enchantments in Washington. And you can't undertake a journey that, thinking about, "Oh, it's going to be so great when I get to the end." It's like, honey, you're going to be doing this for the next 12 hours or something. If you're focused on the beer in the parking lot, that's not going to make for an enjoyable day. It really is about one step in front of the other and then this lake and then this Vista and look at that tree and look at these birds and look at the sun break.

Teresa K. Miller:
And what's nice about the rain happening. And I think before I won the award, because I was so fixated on it, I would've said somebody who tells me, "Oh, it's just about the process. And it's just about the writing." That's a thing that out of touch people say, or that losers say, or but no, even on the other side of winning, it really is the one foot in front of the other and that's life too. I mean, it's the whole adage about you can't take it with you. So the accumulation and when do I get to the point in my life where I'm there? It's like, well, you don't until you die. And then it's done. So it better be everything along the way instead.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I'm glad to know that this book made it out there for us to be able to hold in our hands and for you. So let's talk a little bit about Borderline Fortune as I've read it described as among other things, an exploration of inheritance. And I think for most of us, when we think about the word inheritance, we picture bags of money or fancy furniture or that art in your great grandmother's study. In your work though, I feel inheritance means something slightly different. The inheritance of that which we cannot see, what the generations who came before us have passed down to us in our behavior, in our genes, even in our planet, our surroundings. I might inherit my father's convivial nature, but I could also inherit trauma. Family trauma that went long unresolved and found its way into me. Is that a fair assessment of inheritance? Or maybe can you tell us what you mean by this word?

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah, it's complicated, right? Certainly physical objects are part of it, but not in the sense of inheriting money. Like you said, there is a lot in the book around objects being infused with greater meaning than the object itself. I come from a family that tells stories through things and I started extrapolating that idea of memory and objects into the landscape. So that's a piece of it. The landscape that I have inherited in my life is something that has been changed, not always for the better, by the people who came before me. And then you're right about the trauma piece and the intangible piece of inheritance. I think a lot about how the existential dread that might grab hold of me at 2:00 AM, comes from people I never met. I know that part of it comes from my grandmother, who I knew as a child and who had extremely debilitating, not sufficiently treated anxiety, which came from experiences that she had when she was a child.

Teresa K. Miller:
And I also wonder though, how much of the way that she acted came from her parents who were long gone by the time I came on the scene and this isn't just ethereal speculation on my part. There's a lot of in the field of psychology at this point, particularly around attachment theory and what happens in the first couple of years and whether there's a secure attachment with your primary caregiver, how that ripples out. So there have been ideas that things like anxiety, "Oh, you just inherited it, it's just genetic." And it seems the data is pointing more to, it's not that you inherit it through your genes so much as you are taught it in those early days.

Teresa K. Miller:
And I'm not a fatalist around that. I think when you reach adulthood, if you're lucky enough to look around and say, "Wait a minute, is this what I want? Is this who I am, or is this who I've been taught to be?" then there's the opportunity to rewrite that script a little bit. But in this book, I was really looking at how the generations that came before me, particularly my grandparents and my great grandparents, set the stage for what happened in my childhood and also what happened within myself, within my family and then within the larger ecology. And I've been telling people that it's concerned with the illusion of separation, because I think at the end of the day, it's this illusion that we are separated from each other or that there are parts within our psyche that we won't let know about each other as a defense mechanism that leads to just a tremendous amount of pain. Like we wouldn't intentionally harm ourselves if we realized that so much of that separation was an illusion and that in harming others and in harming our environment, we're actually directly harming ourselves.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow. I'm fascinated by this. So I've talked on the show before about my grandfather, my mom's dad died of suicide when I was 12. I didn't know him that well.

Teresa K. Miller:
I'm so sorry.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you. I didn't know him that well for most of my life, he worked nights. He cleaned city buses in Akron, Ohio. So he slept during part of the day. And then we just didn't see him. I have memories, isolated of him. He sprinkled salt on watermelon. He called it agua malone. For a long time in my family. We didn't speak of his death because this is someone who suffered from depression his entire life, he was in and out of treatment, but never really able to learn to coexist with what that meant. Part of that was the times that he was alive but as a consequence, the family never learned to coexist with his suicide, except that it was a secret and it was this shameful thing.

Annmarie Kelly:
That it was part of our legacy. But I grew up knowing that we should never talk about it. And it was also somehow our fault. And I was thinking, I've never thought about that as an inheritance before, but the emotional work that I need to wrestle with, if I'm going to avoid passing that along to my own children, who never knew that man at all, who never experienced that trauma, but that if I don't learn to talk about mental health, if I don't learn to be vulnerable in the face of pain or depression, that that's an inheritance that my children will take on. Reading your book made me think about those family stories. You said your family tells stories with things. What did that mean?

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah, so it's a multifaceted story. Again, my father adored his mother. They had a great relationship. She was a really lovely woman. I only have snippets of memory of her. She died of pancreatic cancer when I was four. So she died-

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm so sorry.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah, it was hard for me, but mostly because it was hard for my father and he didn't have a great relationship with his father. So she was the one, she was the figure and he just adored her. And when she died, it sent him on this whole genealogical journey. So by the time that he died, he had accumulated 30,000 names of my ancestors or other relations. And to put that in context, this is before... I mean, ancestry.com existed, but it was essentially just this very lofi database. Like there was no DNA genealogy at the time.

Teresa K. Miller:
And it wasn't like now where you sign up for ancestry.com and you just click on other people's research and build out your family tree in an afternoon if you feel it. This was like he was flying to the genealogical library in Salt Lake City. He was wandering around graveyards and following hunches and taking grave rubbings. And he became this hub of knowledge, particularly about his mother's mother's line, that became his specialty. So there were people all over the world sending us things and these self-published books and filling in the gaps. And he was looking through handwritten census records. So he was really the archivist. And then as part of that, he would have these objects that had belonged to some of the people that he had researched. So for instance, downstairs now I have my father's father's father's surveying transit from when he was working in Washington State.

Teresa K. Miller:
And they weren't just interesting things to have. They almost became stand-ins for the people themselves. And I think sometimes, I think my difficulty with getting rid of things comes from some of these objects are almost stand-ins for the lack of connection that actually happened between people, because it is complicated. And like you're saying, if you have these secrets and in my family, there were a lot of unspeakables around mental health and also around addiction, then the object becomes the stand in for the relationship that maybe could have been, but wasn't. So a lot of that ends up in my book, which is partly why it felt dangerous as I was writing it, even though now that it's an object and it's out in the world living its own life, and I see how people are responding to it, I realize it's maybe not as obvious to everyone as it is to me, what I've put in there.

Teresa K. Miller:
But those were certainly some of the questions that I was grappling with around inheritance and around this idea of conjuring, the opening poem begins, "I came here to conjure you." And when I wrote that line, I thought I was the conjurer. And then as I started mucking through all this family history, I thought, well, this grandmother who I mentioned with the debilitating anxiety, she was extremely religious, but also would read tea leaves and put curses on people. So I thought, well maybe she's the conjurer. And then when I started thinking about my father and his genealogical research and that that came from his mother's death, I realized he was conjuring. He was trying to conjure her and bring her back, which is impossible. And then having lost my father to vehicular homicide when I was 23, there's this loop around the conjuring and around my obsession with the past, that's something that I've inherited from him. It's a way that I observed as a small child, that that's how you deal with grief or that's how you show love or that's how you honor someone's memory. And to a point, I think it's right until it becomes a trap and you're not in the present moment anymore.

Annmarie Kelly:
There's some beautiful things that you said there. I know it's a painful subject, but would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your dad?

Teresa K. Miller:
Sure. Yeah. I mean, it's been quite a while now, so I am comfortable talking about him. He was also a long distance cyclist. So he and I had done the Seattle to Portland bicycle ride, organized 200 mile ride, twice when I was a little kid and he'd done it before and after. And when I was in college, he had gotten away from writing as much and I could tell he wasn't happy and he wasn't in as good a shape as he'd want to be. So I said we should do it again. We should do the STP again. And he started training and then it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to do it, but he was really stoked about how he was getting in better shape and getting back into cycling. So he found a different friend who he was going to do the ride with and on St. Patrick's day in 2006, my last semester of grad school, they went out on their first official STP training ride. And they were on the bike path down by the Duwamish River in Seattle, right at the Southern edge of Seattle, and there was a 17 year old coming the other way, street racing up from the Tech Willow south center area.

Teresa K. Miller:
And I guess it was really important to get ahead in the street race, because there was a semi ahead of him. I think the speed limit along there's, at this point, it's maybe 35, maybe then it was 40. He copped to going 80. He was probably going faster than that. And to get around this semi truck, he just intentionally drove up on the bike path and my dad and his friend had been riding to abreast. So the friend near the wall was okay, but there wasn't enough time for my dad to get behind them so they could be parallel along this little wall. So the car just clipped my dad and you know, they made heroic efforts at the Harborview Medical Center, but he was already gone. So that-

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm so sorry.

Teresa K. Miller:
That was the... Yeah, it was... Definitely many of us have before and after moments in our lives. And that will probably always be the biggest before and after. And I know the genesis of this podcast was that you lost your father. So there are ways to create and make meaning out of those experiences.

Annmarie Kelly:
How in the world did you write after that? How did you pick up a pencil or was everything you wrote just grief on a page?

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah. It's heavy. I think everything I still write is probably grief on a page, to be honest. What I've had to learn over the years is that grief is healthy and it's natural and it's human. Trauma is the part that we need to work through. And that was part of this book and that's part of what it's concerned with. And that's part of the journey that led me to be able to write this latest book, was figuring out the difference that grief has movement. It's not linear. It doesn't take you to the great place at the end, but it moves you forward and allows you to grow, whereas trauma is this little time where you just do the same thought loop, the same pain over and over again. And I say it's a time capsule because if I were still rooted in trauma and you asked me about my father, I could have just had a huge melty right now, even though it's been sure more than a decade. And early on in those first couple years you're asking, how did I pick up a pencil?

Teresa K. Miller:
I mean any movie that involved a father dying, even if it was under totally different circumstances, anybody mentioning speeding or making just insensitive clips about hitting pedestrians and they didn't... Really just completely would shut me down. So figuring out how to open that capsule and let it become integrated that's the work.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I can see how doing that particular work, you would have to feel "I need to step away. I can't do that." You would be mired. You would be stuck in that. But I'm fixed on this, "I came here to conjure you" line from the beginning of your book and thinking about that intertextual and just layered...

Annmarie Kelly:
"I did feel the I's and the U's were slippery. Sometimes the I's and the U's seemed like you, even though I hadn't met you and sometimes they seemed me, even though you hadn't met me. And other times you was someone I wasn't sure of." And I love the notion that part of your father and your relationship to him could have found its way through this text, but also part of his relationship to those 30,000 other people in your family, that that was something he was bent on. Would you mind reading... There are a number of poems I think that would make sense, but I bet you could pick out one that is a good fit for maybe what we're talking about today.

Teresa K. Miller:
The book works in this arc of opening up grief through trauma. So the book starts with Of the Dead. And then the next section is Our Own Worst Consequence. So we go from what have the dead given us to what traps do we perpetuate on our own? The third section is Disenthrall. So the spell hopefully begins to break. And then the fourth section is called Lay Down Your Rigid Creation. So it takes a slightly more expansive and cosmic turn toward the end. They're so short. So maybe I'll just read one, swerving into the other. A disenthrall swerving into the Lay Down Your Rigid Creation, just to give a taste of what that looks in practice.

Teresa K. Miller:
Rushing circulation shakes you. You Had a father and will never have him again. Forgetting the Northern constellations, equations you faltered through, but did not comprehend. Plain vanilla ice cream, worn in flannel, white crown Sparrow. One day history runs out. The schematic alone more than everything you ever toted. The thought of your Acacia grazing unfamiliar atmosphere. What dark energy you bring to expand the universe is not yours to inventory. No more testimony.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you. Is it hard to read poetry? I know that you write poetry and I know that it's hard to write poetry, but is it hard to read poetry out loud? Is that something that you had to learn or have you always known how to read your poems?

Teresa K. Miller:
That's a good question. I think it's always a practice and there are always things I could do better. And I talk to different artists and musicians who have given me a lot of wisdom around this is you're just there to share something and have an interaction and show love and know your ministry. I'm not a religious person, but know your ministry in the sense of just who are you trying to reach and why? And focus on that instead of all the things that could be perfect. And when I was younger, I did write more performance poetry, spoken word poetry, things that were meant to be read out loud rather than met on the page. So there's that piece of it as well. But yeah, I thought you were going to ask about, is it hard to read poetry just in general because I know people are often intimidated by it, but there's that piece too.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I mean, I will... I think I heard you say something about this where people lay at your feet all the years of high school and middle school poetry. And I'm a high school English teacher, is my day job. So I'm criticizing myself. So that the two complaints that people always have about poetry are actually polar opposites that "I don't know what it means. What's the secret handshake that unlocks it?" So that's on one side and then the other side is like, "It means whatever you want it to mean." How can both of those things be true at the same time and are they true? Well they might be true in the students who sit in the seats in my classroom, I've seen both of those. But if I've heard you correctly, the notion is probably that there's truth somewhere in between those two poles.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah. I think it's a collaborative effort. Most poems have some intent behind them. Some are totally conceptual abstract poetry.

Annmarie Kelly:
I always take comfort in the white space around the words, because I feel that's room for me and that's room for me to interact. That that white space is there for a reason. That there's room for my story, that when you say that you've had a father and you'll never have him again, I never knew your father and I'm heartbroken for you, but I'm also thinking about me. And then our fathers are both there in the white space of that page. And then you're talking about legacy and inheritance and having a dad who looked for ancestors. Well, my dad's dad did that exact same thing and turned out to have a number of... He was a motherless child. A mom who died when he was young. And he was the son of someone who was orphaned and this legacy of people in search of family.

Annmarie Kelly:
And that the one thing my dad did really well was try to create family because he came from a long line of folks for whom that was a quest and sometimes an unfulfilled one, and all that for me comes alive in the white space of your page. And I will confess that I don't know every line that you read and how it fits into your story. It seems to be there are multiple ones, that's not a strict narrative. You talked about these essence objects, that they're going to float in and out. And I won't know the story, but I'm going to join you in your words. And there's a lot of power there and a lot of responsibility. So I also understand why, for some students that's really scary. I don't want to find myself on the page. I don't want to work that hard or I'm afraid of what I might find.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yeah, for sure. And I think we're also indoctrinated often to think that there's one right way to interact with the world. There's one right way to live. There's a right answer. You need to be the winner by getting the right answer. And most of life is not that standardized test that keeps coming back year after year. I was a public school teacher for several years as well. So I know the framework versus the spark that you try to maintain within those confines of educating and yeah, it's a little taste that you can have whenever you want of that more ambiguous, more expansive life.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, that's glorious, and I'm really grateful that you wrote this and I'm really grateful that you shared it. I feel we've just skimmed the surface. I would go through all these poems. Maybe I'll rattle your cage and we'll have a tutorial or I'll come to... Of course, you're in Portland now. We'll go to West Seattle and look for the harpist and do some more poems. But in the meantime I have to wrap it, so we always close with a few icebreakers. If you've listened to the show you might know them. I'll have to do them out of order. Multiple choice here, dogs or cats?

Teresa K. Miller:
I've loved a couple dogs, but definitely team cat.

Annmarie Kelly:
Coffee or tea?

Teresa K. Miller:
Very much tea. I wish coffee liked me, but it doesn't.

Annmarie Kelly:
I wish coffee liked me. Mountains or beach?

Teresa K. Miller:
The nice thing about the Pacific Northwest is you get both so I'm going to straddle that line.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah. You get those torn paper mountains that run right up to the coastline. I had never seen anything that before I moved there. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Teresa K. Miller:
Between the two, probably early bird, but medium bird. I don't start with anything that starts with a six. I'm not going to be up for that.

Annmarie Kelly:
A medium bird. I like that. Loud or quiet?

Teresa K. Miller:
Quiet for sure.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a risk taker or the person who knows where the bandaids are?

Teresa K. Miller:
That goes back to that inheritance question, I think my constitution, had I grown up differently, would probably be risk taker, but I definitely know where the bandaids are. So part of my adult journey is how to know where the bandaids are and maybe bust out of a few of the boxes I was trained to stay in.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's excellent. This question, I don't really think about my own answers to these questions, no one's ever asked me, but last night I literally could not find the bandaids. I tripped on the steps and cut my hand. I'm like "Where are the bandaids?" I ask people this all the time, but I should know where they are. If you could time travel, would you rather go back in time or forward in time?

Teresa K. Miller:
I guess it depends on if I can change anything or I just have to witness it. Because I'm very past oriented, but I don't know that it would do me any good to just go back and watch painful things happen again. If I could change the past, then maybe it would be nice to go back. And I don't know. Maybe I'm just making an argument for the present moment, because they both seem very fraught.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah, that is true. What's something quirky that folks don't know about you? Just likes, loves, pet peeves.

Teresa K. Miller:
I'm a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts. Still go back and do service projects at my Girl Scout camp twice a year. So I've been a Girl Scout since I was seven and I still have the lifetime membership card now. And that's been very instrumental in my life. And then the other one is probably I had visited 49 states by the time I was 20, but I still haven't been to North Dakota.

Annmarie Kelly:
Me neither.

Teresa K. Miller:
Oh really?

Annmarie Kelly:
We need to go.

Teresa K. Miller:
Yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
Me neither. North Dakota where are you? We need to come there. There should be a thing that everybody goes to do in North Dakota to check it off of our bucket list.

Teresa K. Miller:
Are you at 49 states or are-

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm at 48 because I've not been to Alaska. I wanted to drive to Alaska when I lived in Seattle so I could check it off of my list until I looked at how far away-

Teresa K. Miller:
That's a long drive.

Annmarie Kelly:
It seems like it should be right there.

Teresa K. Miller:
Just do a little hop over to Juno. You're better off than driving.

Annmarie Kelly:
Indeed, indeed. If you're a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, how many badges do you have?

Teresa K. Miller:
Well, you don't get to earn badges anymore once you graduate from high school, but I did get my silver award and then I got the Girl Scout award of excellence when I was a senior in high school, because I had been, for a couple years, volunteering with a Girl Scout troop at a school for kids who were in transition due to homelessness. So they had two adults who were running the troop, but they weren't Girl Scouts so they didn't know how to teach them any of the Girl Scout stuff. So I had been coming in and being the resident Girl Scout consultant and hanging out with these girls. So as a result of that, even though I didn't actually do my gold award, I got the college scholarship from the Girl Scouts. So it's a super cool organization and totally separate from the Boy Scouts, which has had some trouble lately, but the Girl Scouts has been hugely instrumental in my life.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's great. What do you love about where you live?

Teresa K. Miller:
Well, I'm less than a mile from the Willamette River and I'm walking distance to the light rail that'll take me into Portland and it's got all the things that a city has, but it also still feels a small town. And if I open my back gate, I'm on a bike path so I just feel I live in this idyllic little greater Portland, green, watery, lovely space, as long as we're not having the wildfires or the ice storm or the heat dome that we have in the last couple years.

Annmarie Kelly:
Except for those things. But no, that sounds a veritable paradise. What's a favorite book or movie or both?

Teresa K. Miller:
Oh, favorites are so hard. I mean, I gave some shoutouts in Borderline Fortune, some of the epigraphs, one came from Lucille Clifton's The Book of Light and another came from Rebecca Solnit's The Far Away Nearby. And then one came from Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters. And those are three books that I have read over and over and over again. So those definitely rate.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yes. I would sometimes be afraid to put Rebecca Solnit or Lucille Clifton anywhere near my own words because they're so shiny. But it was seamless.

Teresa K. Miller:
Oh, thank you.

Annmarie Kelly:
That you were in good company with that triumvirate. What's your favorite ice cream?

Teresa K. Miller:
When we lived in Oakland, there was a place called Fentons and they had a coffee cookie dream, hot fudge Sunday. And I still periodically think about that and we haven't lived there in seven years, so it was pretty amazing.

Annmarie Kelly:
Coffee, cookie dream. I've never had this, but I'm going to go to my local ice cream place which is Mitchell's. So I'm just going to order one up. I don't see it in the menu. I'm going to slap the bar and be like "One coffee, cookie dream Sunday."

Teresa K. Miller:
It was all the good things.

Annmarie Kelly:
And the stir will be about 14.

Teresa K. Miller:
But yeah, coffee ice cream with Oreos and then cookie dough and then hot fudge on top. It was amazing.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. I will report back. That's excellent. Okay. Last one, if we were to take a picture of you really happy and doing something you love, what would we see you doing?

Teresa K. Miller:
Probably one of those ridiculous burly one day hikes, somewhere in the 20 to 25 mile range. Planning to do another one in September. So yeah, that's my jam even though end up with a little bit of the swollen knee situation afterwards, but totally worthwhile.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you, Teresa for coming on the show today and for reminding us that, as you said, if the sun returns, it will strike right here. Thank you for asking us to think about our inheritance, what we've been given, what we leave behind. And I'm thinking about your great great aunt who inspired and filled people with wonder, thank you for inspiring us and for filling us with wonder. We're grateful.

Teresa K. Miller:
Oh, thank you so much, Annmarie, you've been a really generous reader and conversation partner, and it's just been an honor to be here, so very grateful. Thank you.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you folks. Our guest today has been Teresa K. Miller whose book Borderline Fortune is a recent National Poetry Series winner, which you guys is a big deal. Like it's a big deal. So please pick it up at the library or an Indie store near you, find yourself and your story on the white pages in between the words and think about your legacy because I've been thinking about mine. To everyone who's listening, we're wishing you love and light wherever the day takes you. Be good to yourself. Be good to one another. And we'll see you again soon on this wild and precious journey.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael Deloya producer, Sarah Wilgrou and audio engineer, Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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