By Andrew Zapata
Poetry is a form of art, and this form of art offers everyone a platform to express themselves and to affirm their own voices. For me, my fascination with poetry began in an unlikely way. I was 18 when I started my first semester at Pasadena City College. At the time I had no intention of pursuing an academic degree, but I couldn’t let my parents know that. I always romanticized becoming a working-class dude with a blue collar job: a simple life. Wrenching on cars sounded awesome and so when I hit PCC that Fall, the only class I took was Auto 32.
My plan to ignore the more academic classes in favor of the hands-on classes was going great, but then it came time to register for another semester, and while I wasn't sure what I would take, my parents had no problem demanding that I sit down with them to make a full, educational plan for transfer to a 4-year degree. I was forced to pick what my mom called a "more serious" major. I had always enjoyed reading and writing, so I picked English. I found writing pretty enjoyable but also, I think I had some romanticized notions of being an English teacher. I had been madly in love with my high school English teacher and even went as far as asking her out! It goes without saying, we never made off into the sunset, but maybe English was still for me.
After a few semesters, I landed in ENG 53 - Poetry, with Dr. Kirsten Ogden. I had always thought my own words might count for something, and in this class, I was introduced to the intimate science of poetry and the voices of so many others. One poet that I found particularly relatable turned out to be Zubair Ahmed, author of City of Rivers. I discovered in the online article “The poetics of home with Zubair Ahmed” that he and his family came to America to escape the political instability and poverty of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was a child when they won the Diversity Visa Lottery and were granted green card access into the country. Ahmed describes Dhaka as a densely packed city to the point where he states, “When you walk down the street [in Dhaka], you breathe the breath of the person standing next to you”. I found his comment relatable as a Los Angeles native. This city has an estimated population of four-million people, I sometimes feel a similar invasion of space living here.
One poem in particular that I love by Ahmed is "The Water of Lake Tahoe". Ahmed opens his poem by painting a wonderful feeling of Nirvana-like bliss.
The sound of water repairs my skin.
I stand inside the wind,
Breathing in the tips of waves
And the branches coated
In pre-dawn ice.
I share Ahmed’s appreciation with nature through my own love affair with poetry and mother nature. A tranquil effect coats the senses from the sound of moving water, the feel of a wind’s embrace, and breathing crisp air that only exists in the early hours of the morning forest. It is very easy to forget the therapeutic healing nature can offer, especially for those of us in the city. Like Ahmed, I too find peace and serenity when I’m outside alone. There is nothing better than having a quiet space and time away from the pollution of everyday life. Having the freedom of clear un-encroached thought is an inexplicably delightful gift from nature. The rest of this poem takes a polar opposite sentiment. The final seven lines read:
I’m afraid to go anywhere.
I’m afraid of the empty rooms
That await me,
The photos on my table
That must be sorted.
The heaps of paper being folded
By the ghosts who refuse to haunt me.
The physical world’s natural beauty is life’s man-made horror. Ahmed explains, “I’m afraid to go anywhere”. There is a sense of fear within him that relates to the confines of to the confines of 21st-century life. The rest of the poem’s tone shifts from soulful freedom to lingering thoughts of enslavement via tasks and objectives; existing only from a dominant culture of modern technological advancement of just a few centuries. Ahmed expresses fear that is all too real and relatable for anyone who’s exposed to living in Western culture/society. Life becomes synchronized and monotonous when it’s dependent on working, creating an ominous cycle of working to live and living to work. I realized that my former aspiration of becoming a labouring mechanic, clocking in and clocking out, isn’t for me.
Ahmed captures the culture clash between Western vs. Eastern values. He is an Indian born Native which means he is apart of a culturally Eastern sensibility. This is represented in the first half of his poem, as nature plays a very influential role in his part of the world. The second half of the poem represents symptoms that are well known to Western culture because work and worry are unfortunately synonymous with each other. Western society values work and mutes holistic views on life. Eastern society, on the other hand, values a more holistic approach to life over a rat race mentality.
In retrospect, I don’t blame myself for just wanting to start my life without an education. Like Ahmed, I find myself contemplating a life without man-made horrors. We both have an appreciation for holistic ways of healing and find our distinct voice in nature. Poetry has molded me into a more whole individual, defining my voice and perspective on life. I am so happy that I found that English 53 class with Doctor Ogden; without it, I might still have been that adolescent boy with dreams of being a day laborer.
Andrew is a student attending Pasadena City College. He says: "My admiration for the written word serve as influences to pursue an academic career in English."
To read more of Zubair Ahmed's work please visit:
Written by Cassie Wilson
Resilience: “The ability to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”
It is 11:37 PM at night. I have a purple lavender candle lit on my bedside table. The aroma throughout my room is warm, light, and engaging. It is somewhat cold on this luminous fall night. So, I lie inside my powdered blue blanket as I read the book “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur. It is a collection of poems that describes Kaur’s journey through what she describes as: “the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing.” I find myself smiling as I come across the word “resilience” in her poetry. I begin to read the poem as I take a hit from my mint flavored vape:
I want to apologize to all the women
I have called pretty
before I’ve called them intelligent or brave
I have been defined and addressed with many different words throughout my life, each one holding a very different kind of weight over me. Pretty. Beautiful. Sexy. These words were--yes, nice to the ears at times--but held no real significance to my soul. They were not deep. They were not personal. They simply sugar coated my physical features. These words did not describe my strength, my intelligence, my wisdom, my willpower. They did not even begin to express a small fragment of who I am as a person. I continue to read as these thoughts run marathons in my head:
I am sorry I made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of when your
spirit has crushed mountains
Kaur is expressing a public apology for glorifying the physicalness of a women’s appearance. She expresses that a women’s body or face is not the most important aspect of their spirit. When I think of myself as a person, my appearance does not even come to mind. The first thing is my compassion. The second, my kindness. The third, my resilience. I am not ashamed to say that the list of words that make up my spirit does not result to a “pretty”. A woman’s soul is extraordinary. A woman’s spirit is resilient. A woman’s strength is powerful. Kaur echoes these concepts as she closes the poem:
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re pretty
but because you are so much more
Kaur emphasizes that she is not belittling a woman’s appearance, instead she is glorifying the greater parts. The woman’s spirit, soul, ambition, intelligence, wisdom. The list goes on. There are so many different components of a woman that make up who she is. This is not to be confused with the physical appearance. When I think of Gloria Steinem, who fiercely led the women’s liberation movement in the 60’s and 70’s I do not think “pretty”. When I think of Angela Davis, civil rights activist and powerful leader in the Black Rights Movement, I do not think “beautiful.” When I think of Rupi Kaur I do not think of “sexy”. These women and every woman is fierce, powerful, strong, intelligent, ambitious, and resilient.
You can read more about Rupi Kaur and her work at:
Cassie Wilson is a student at Pasadena City College. She says: "Rupi Kaur is a poet who speaks to my soul, and I am honored to write my perspective on her work."
Inspiration by the Living, not the Dead: A Walk Through PCC's Screen Printing and Graphic Design Room
Written by Anelyse Pfeiffer
Honestly? I went in more excited to take pictures for the Inscape Instagram we had just created, not expecting to be inspired like I was. I love art, but I can barely draw a stick figure with somewhat functioning looking fingers; so walking in to the Screen Printing and Graphic Design room here at PCC was exciting. To see the talent that people have is amazing. Myself and the staff of PCC Inscape were given a quick tour of the facility and given an explanation of what they do by Professor Erika Coleman. I was able to talk to a few students about what they were doing, and why they wanted to do it. If I’m going to find out things I’m curious as to why people do the things they do and why they think the way they think. Psychology is my major.
I was first able to talk to a student Nicoles Hernandez who is in his 3rd semester here at PCC. He had just finished up working on his Day of the Dead artwork which was featured on the Day of the Dead Celebration at Zona Rosa Caffe Saturday, October 13th. It’s a block party festival that features artwork from students and faculty at PCC. Nicoles has been doing screen printing for about 4 years where he started by making band t-shirts. Where was this guy when I needed band t-shirts for my emo phase in high school?! We talked for a minute and I thought it was really cool to know that his goal is to work making big wall paper rolls, and textiles. Never in a million years would I have thought that making wallpaper designs would be a job somebody wanted, but this guy does and I can see why. He’s good at what he does. His artwork is beautiful and he takes the time with his work.
I worked my way around the students and made my way to Jasmine Guevara. Mostly because the next person I asked to interview turned me down and Jasmine stepped up to the plate. And I am so glad it ended up being her. She was determined in her goals and passionate about what she did. I like that in a person, so I was curious as to what her story was. How she got to where she was at this moment. She’s only a semester and a half in but loving every minute finishing up her Generals and going through the Graphic Communications Program. She was guided this way by her uncle who had gone through the program as well. She’s always been an artist but originally worked in fashion and what sparked her interest was when she would collaborate with a graphic designer at her job making ads, she saw the excitement and talent this woman had and wanted the same. Jasmine loves the idea of being able to draw what she wants, scanning them into something like Adobe or Photoshop then producing her own work by pushing the ink through the screen. It’s a full circle kind of deal and it makes someone feel complete. Can you believe up until a semester and a half ago she had never worked with screen printing? Now look at her fuzzing all of her talents together!
I came in with my class curious as to how these students could help those of us working on the magazine by creating a sticker to promote it and I came out with 2 new views on passion. Inspired by passion, by people, by stories, inspiration can be sparked anywhere, anytime. I think that’s what I love most about personal stories. Someone’s struggles and successes can inspire me to make a change. Who knows…maybe I’ll take an art class here at PCC and learn how to draw hands so my stick figure can look normal.
And since you missed it, check out these upcoming events around town that might inspire you as well!
If you’re on campus this Thursday the 25th, check out the open mic poetry event sponsored by the Languages Division! Check out the flyers on campus for more information.
Fairytales and Scarytales this Friday October 26, 2018 from 7:00 PM -8:30 PM at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse. (Featured on #litweekla )
Anelyse Pfeiffer is a student at PCC studying Child Development. She wants to use creative writing as a form of therapy in her future endeavors.
Written by Cassie Wilson
The third week I ached to be out of my body. I ached to be thin. I ached to run to the bathroom and purge the hundred some calories I ingested previously during lunch. This was the first time I was allowed to know my weight in 3 whole weeks. I cried the rest of the day I spent there. I cried on my way home. I cried as I walked up the stairs to my redwood colored front door. I cried the whole god damn night. I did not purge. I did not restrict. I did not binge. I just cried.
Week four I made friends and not the shallow “we need to hangout” but never do type of friends. The real, life-long, share your most personal demons with friends. We are still that close to this day. In process group they cried, I cried. They laughed, I laughed. It was the first time in that giant red brick building that I felt safe. I didn’t want to leave. In Bengali tradition family is a sacred aspect of their culture. When I think about my Bella Vita family, they are one of the most sacred aspects of my life. They knew me better than anybody. As I read the poem, Eight of Us Sleeping in One Room, by Ahmed, they are the first ones who come mind. He describes,
We breathe each other’s breaths.
Outside, the sound of a motorcycle
Refusing to start.
An old man and a child sit in the stairwell
And smoke a cigarette.
These walls are more than walls.
Even in sleep, we stay only here.
Ahmed’s home is his safe haven. He feels safe and secure there. He shares it with his family and they all are connected. The walls they share are “more than walls”, they are the fabric of their culture, lives, and tradition. My friends at the Bella Vita shared the same struggles, demons, and hardships as I did. Sitting in the walls of the giant red brick building became safe for me. The people I connected with were more than just casual friends. They understood me on a different level. We were one family, fighting against a disorder that defined us all for so long. The walls of the Bella Vita were not just walls to us. They were our home and our safe place.
The fifth week my dietician changed my life. It was a pivotal moment for my time spent at the Bella Vita. It was the week I began to try and more importantly to listen. My dietician was a badass, red haired, 10 year recovering anorexic. Her life mission was to was to change the stereotype placed upon individuals by mainstream media. The stereotype that in order to be beautiful, you have to be thin. She coached me on the influences placed in media around the world that manipulated people into wanting to loose weight. How in almost every tv show, movie, or commercial the actors/actresses were thin and drop-dead gorgeous. That reality was hardly ever shown in the media. That THEY were the ones influencing people to join fad diets that have absolutely no nutritional value in them. She told me that every individual is different. Every BODY is different. That difference does not equal inferiority. Fat did not equal less than. Beautiful did not equate to being thin. My obsession about losing weight was not really about losing weight.
My obsession about losing weight was not really about losing weight.
This took me a while to actually understand, but the more time I spent actually trying, listening, and engaging in the groups the more I understood. I was obsessed with numbers not because they meant I would be thinner, but because it meant I could control something in my life that was tangible. My emotions were overwhelming. I could not control them, so I began to control something I was able to: gaining or losing weight. Counting calories, purging, binging, or restricting. All behavior I was in control of. After this realization, things began to click into place. I spent 12 years of my life engaging in my eating disorder. Unaware, depressed, self-destructive, and completely numb to everything around me. I acted out of impulse. I created an addiction to my self-destructive behavior. It felt good to lose weight, not because I was getting thinner, but because I was finally in control of something in my life.
The rest of my time spent at the Bella Vita was the most real self-work I had ever done. I begun the journey of healing. Learning who I really was, what I valued and believed in, and how to deal with my emotions. My entire perception of life itself was completely transformed. I learned to radically accept my body, no matter the size of my waist. To value everything it did for me. I began to live for kindness, gratitude, love, and mostly importantly for myself. My relationship with my friends and family changed. They were positive, warm, and inviting. My life began to blossom like a wildflower. I began to write poetry again. I began to paint and sing and engage in positive activities that I enjoyed. I still cried, I still got angry, and even sometimes impulsive. The difference was, I able to handle it, able to process it. I was able to cope.
As I parted ways with the giant red brick building, my life truly began to bloom. I think now about my parting with the Bella Vita and think of Ahmed’s poem, Second Home. It reads:
It snowed four days ago
I don’t feel as cold
As I am supposed to.
I almost believe I am as strong as I need to be.
I come across a field
Wide enough to hold all
The letters I’ve written,
Even the ones I burned/
Ahmed is coming to terms with his identity, his home, his up-bring, and all the parts of himself that make him who is he. He explains it “snowed” but that he does not feel as “cold” as he is “supposed to”. In his earlier poem, 4 A.M., he was waiting for the snow to fall and openly walking out in the darkness. There has been a huge transition inside of him. He is able to confront the coldness of his life. He is strong enough to not feel the bitter sting of his winter's frost. He is proud of his Bengali ancestry, of his home, his family, and his life. Ahmed and I share this same victory.
The first day of my time in the Bella Vita I was not able to handle my darkness and the frost that accompanied it. I was not strong enough. I did not have the proper clothing to endure the winter of my life. Two years later, as I sit in this green and grey Starbucks Coffee shop, I have knitted the biggest, warmest coat. I have found the strength within myself to endure the darkness that used to be my life. I am a recovering binger/purger and I am proud to share my story. My identity is not defined by my eating disorder. I am made up of my accomplishments, strengths, dreams, hopes, values, and aspirations.
I am strong.
I am resilient.
I am a survivor.
The giant red brick building is apart of my story, but it is not who I am.
Note from author:
If you are struggling with an eating disorder please remember:
You are capable.
You have value.
You are deserving of love, kindness, and help.
You can get better.
Please visit the link below for support.
Cassie Wilson is a student, writer, and poet attending Pasadena City College. She says: "I enjoy drinking TAZO giant peach tea and listening to instrumental pop music while I create. I do not write to preach, I write to express."
Written by Cassie Wilson
I walk through the doors of the green and grey Starbucks building exactly 4 miles away from my house. The barista asks me what I want. “Venti, hot, soy, peppermint mocha please", I somewhat stutter. We exchange nonchalant expressions as I hand the money to him. 10 minutes later, I’m sitting down, coffee beside me, a book in my hands: City of Rivers by Zubair Ahmed. I’m completely unaware of the voices echoing around me; the many conversations happening at the same shared table I occupy. Too engrossed with the work I don’t even hear my name called as I read an excerpt from the poem, 4 A.M:
You go outside,
Place your body
Deep inside the darkness
And wait for snow/
I imagine Zubair Ahmed, Bengali immigrant, his life rich in culture and tradition. His poetry filled with the experiences that shaped how he perceives the world. Ahmed describes an individual going outside in the “darkness” waiting for the snow. I begin to remember a time in my life where I placed myself in my own darkness. A time where I waited for the snow. Where I was so deep inside my own self-destructive nature that I just expected my downfall.
Throughout my life my perspective has had many renovation processes. I’ve been carved out, filled up, carved out again and then left to pick up the pieces. The most prevalent life experience that has shaped how I perceive the world would have to be the 60 days I spent at the Bella Vita facility in Pasadena, CA.
I remember my first day. The giant red brick building that sat in front of me. It looked obscure and uninviting. Every inch of myself was telling me to turn around, drive back home and never look back. I puffed the last of my cigarette as I sat outside the building. I was hoping that some natural disaster happened in front of me. Anything to stop me from entering and talking about the unspeakable. I put the cigarette out, wiped the tears from my face, and entered the giant red brick building.
Most of the time somebody hears the word “eating disorder” and a picture of a tiny boned, fragile framed girl comes to mind. This was not the case for me, nor is this stereotype even remotely true. I was an overweight 19 year old when I first stepped inside the giant red brick building that made up the eating disorder facility that soon became my safe haven. A myriad of emotions flooded my body. I was scared, ashamed, and mostly pissed off. I did not believe I needed to be there. I missed my intake appointment the day prior and the facility called my mother. My god damn mother. I was past the point of annoyance. I wanted to scream: I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP! I spent the hour prior to my appointment driving down the street from my house, turning around, coming back home, and then leaving again, finally arriving into the grey small parking lot of the facility. Then, sitting in my car chain smoking cigarettes, while balling my eyes out. I did not want to do this, but something small inside me told me I had to try.
During my intake appointment I barely remember all the questions they asked me. I tried to focus but the surging pain of acid embodied my teeth, throat, and tongue. The words “bulimic” stung me to my core. They explained their treatment plan to me, but I wasn’t listening. I was planning and preparing for what I was about to endure. See, the thing about someone with an eating disorder is that control is the only thing that matters. My mind was obsessed with numbers: my weight, the calories I would intake throughout the day, the amounts of chews I took, and how many pounds I could lose. Much like Ahmed, everything in my life was routine. He illustrates in his poem: I Watch The Shadows of Birds Waking at Dawn to Pick the Worms Clean:
I know what the day holds--
Organizing bottles of fish oil on my shelves,
Feeding the spiders in my keyhole three poppy seeds,/
Children gather at the bus stops, their faces covered with black boxes.
/the students line up with their white shirts and khaki pants
Ready to write about the secret lives of sparrows.
/I will wait till night falls and I can’t see
The shadows of birds surrounding me.
Ahmed's life in Bangladesh was a fixed program. His culture spilled out in his day to day experiences. When he illustrates himself waiting until “night falls”, he is waiting for his moment of freedom. Similarly, I had felt prisoner to my surroundings. I knew exactly what my day would consist of: restricting, binging or purging. Ahmed felt trapped in his culture, just as I felt trapped in my eating disorder. I remember the intake was over before I even begun listening. All I knew was I would spend everyday in the facility from 10AM until 7PM, having every meal and snack there. FUCK was the only word I remember thinking of.
After my first week at the facility I recall wanting to desperately leave. My thoughts ran marathons in my head: Who are these people? Why am I here? Why should I trust them? I was resistant, cold, and unresponsive. The first meal I had with the group was terrifying. The diet tech observing the group explained to me that if I did not finish the food on my plate, I would have to drink an Ensure. It was a chocolate, chalky liquid that served as a meal replacement. The girl sitting next to me looked me dead in the eyes shaking her head. She leaned over and whispered, “You should eat the food. The Ensure is twice the amount of calories that your food is. So, it’s better to force feed yourself the meal.”
I ate every meal the entire 60 days I was there.
Week two my personal therapist asked me who I was. Those words confused me. I knew my age, my weight, the color of my skin, hair, and eyes. I knew where I went to school, what city I grew up in. I told her all of the above. She smiled and said, "Who you are is not where you are from or what you look like. I want to know your goals, values, and beliefs. That is who you are." That was the first time I realized how lost I was. In the poem, I Close My Eyes and Find Myself in the Exact Center of Dhakra, Ahmed feels that same confusion of identity. He explains,
Tell me why the sky is above
And not under our bodies.
/The world becomes transparent.
I don’t understand anything anymore--
The moon walking away from us
Because we’re discovering
Who we really are/
Ahmed is slowly figuring out who he is and what it means to be a Bengali. He reminisces about the discoveries of his people and feels confused and lost. Just as I felt lost in this hour long therapy session of what if’s and who’s who. Ahmed and I shared a common goal: uncovering our true identities.
The third week I ached to be out of my body.
Part Two is scheduled to post on Wednesday, October 17, 2018. Stay Tuned!
If you want to read Ahmed's work please visit:
Cassie Wilson is from Burbank, California. She has a passion for poetry and a unrelenting love of writing. She is currently attending Pasadena City College, majoring in English. Cassie says, "my journal is my best friend and my pen my partner in crime."
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.