Tessa Micaela on Winning at Being Shy, Tender, Pissed Off, and Trying Your Damn Best
An interview with Tessa Micaela, from The Write Stuff series:
Tessa Micaela was born and raised Philadelphia and lives and works in Oakland, for now. Tessa is the author of there are boxes and there is wanting (Trembling Pillow Press, 2016) and the chapbook Crude Matter (ypolita press, 2015). Other writing can be found in unsuspecting jars and corners. Tessa co-edits Hold: a journal and is usually running late.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
That I wait tables. That I’m a poet. That I’m a birthworker.
That I’m still trying to figure it out.
That sometimes I do doula work and sometimes I do sexual and reproductive education work. That sometimes I take care of small humans. That I practice herbalism. That I edit a poetry journal (HOLD: a journal). That sometimes I bind books. That sometimes I teach poetry. That sometimes I organize against racism and the prison industrial complex. That sometimes I organize for queer liberation. That I’ve painted houses. That I’ve made so much coffee for strangers. That I’ve picked flowers, or rather, the weeds around flowers.
That I’m going to midwifery school next year and between then and now I’m trying to write as much as I can. That I’m to figure out how to build a life taking care of people’s bodies and also being a poet.
That I spend a lot of time going on hikes with my dog and sitting at my folding table beside my window in West Oakland and sweeping the floor and serving people breakfast and coffee and reading books and writing poems and calling my friends and family on the other side of the country and drinkings beers with my friends on this side of the country and going on dates and going to poetry readings and going to punk shows and going to the ymca and spending more time than I’d like on the internet.
Mostly I don’t say any of this. Mosty I say I’m a poet and a birthworker and that I wait tables.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Sleeping enough. Paying my bills. Having enough time. Trusting what I know. Using my voice. Keeping up with snail mail. Time.
I’ve got the scarcity complex. And the enough complex.
Do you consider yourself successful?Why?
As an adult in America? Definitely not. Success is a concept that I can’t exorcise the capitalist-in-the-brain from. I’m a broke, single, queer poet living a medium to mediocre life far away from where I come from. I’ve got a few ideas about how I’m gonna keep myself employed, or what I want to keep myself employed doing, but most of those ideas aren’t successful, really. How many people are like, yeah, that poet, that herbalist, that birthworker, that awesome friend, that tender queer is SUPER successful, just being themselves. How many people are like, damn, look how that person really wins at being shy, tender, pissed off, trying their damn best.
But actually, that’s the kind of value system I most appreciate—where what matters is the way we move through the world, how we show up to ourselves, the things we make, and the moment in history and culture that we find ourselves in. If I frame success in that way—about the relationships to ourselves and each other—success based on the growth of communities we are moored in, communities that challenge us to be our best selves, to resist institutionalized and cultural violence, to build resiliency and interdependence, to be accountable to one another—then yeah, I’ve got a ton to be proud of.
I’ve got all these people I love, who I am committed to personally and politically, spread out all over this country doing things like making art and writing poems and organizing and taking care of each other and healing each other’s bodies and growing food and raising animals and being parents and counseling each other and teaching each other stuff and cheering each other on. Being a part of the rhizomes of those communities make me feel like I must be doing something right. Or rather, being a part of these webs makes me feel alive and makes me want to write and want to learn to take better care of other people and their bodies and makes me feel able to continue fighting against oppression and repression, because here are these folks strong enough to keep at it and hold each other up. And that’s good enough for me.
But wish me luck on the career and social security front.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Worry about yourself:
The pig dancing to rihanna:
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
Swimming. So much swimming. In not-freezing water. Naked. And big trees. With dirty feet. With a gaggle of other bodies all wild and dirty-footed. And somebodies singing. And fire-burned corn on the cob. And fresh peaches. And the puppies so tired and happy. And the babies a little feral and happily asleep in the tents. And a whiskey bottle passed around. Oh yeah, and fireflies and stars. So many fireflies and so many stars.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Again, pig dancing to rihanna.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
I get paid next week. Until then I’m afraid to look.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
I take a lot of herbs.
Today I’ve taken nettles and milky oats and skullcap and maitake mushroom.
And some ibuprofen.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Sometimes I feel like I’ve got more attention and energy now to fall in love than I ever have before. I feel the possibility of falling in love in little bursts all the time. Meaning, I feel the capacity to connect to someone or something, and be connected to. I almost fell in love this morning when I opened a letter that came in the mail. I almost fell in love at 40th and Telegraph checking out somebody on a blue bike, then almost ran a red light. I almost fell in love when an old lady took my hand while she ordered her eggs.
But also, I’m not letting anybody in close enough these days to fall in love, if it’s a romantic- normy-movie kind of love-spark. Turns out, the older you get and the more partnerships you’ve left, the harder it is to trust people and the harder it is to let people trust you.
I wrote this poem recently that I thought was about sex and queerness and liminality, but was actually about not letting anybody in close enough to love. I wrote a lot about balking—sports metaphors are my preferred kind. Winding up to pitch, and starting to, before committing to it, turning to try to pick off the runner about to steal second and confusing everybody. It’s not so bad, really, being a balker for a while, as long as the balker can come out about it. Or if there weren’t so many rules against it.
But then again, I am always feeling little bursts of connection and intimacy, old and new. And that’s not balking. That’s something else. That’s more like we live in a world where we all need each other, and bad, and I am grateful to feel that so many times a day, right inside my chest. That is, I fall in love with my friends constantly, like every time I hear one of them laugh. And I fall in love with plants and kiddos and dogs and strangers more than I can count.
And yeah, I’d be into falling in that other kind of love again, with a person or two, one of these days.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The dismantling of the prison industrial complex, for a start.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Get surprised. Get angry. Laugh.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a weird project that is digging up old projects, trying to splice them together. It’s about desire and repulsion, queerness and feminized bodies. There is this central character/central pronoun called o who is fragmented and multiple. O is trying a bunch of things, wiley as o is, including wanting and not wanting people and things around o.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire work that is defiantly tender; taking risks and interrogating its own need for risk-taking. I admire writers who make work in which I can feel their investment and need to be in conversation and contact with the world, moment, communities, around and within them.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
With 50 words, I’d probably write a letter to my dad. He’d know what I was talking about, and could fill in the blanks.
With 50 bucks I’d buy dog food and broccoli and fancy pens.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Yarrow. Salt water. Old spice. Bread rising. Late spring on the east coast. Morning-after armpits. Libraries. Vetiver.