by S. H. Aeschliman
I’m expecting a short woman with short, dark brown hair, so when a tall woman with long blond hair walks into the café, makes eye contact and waves a small, rectangular piece of paper in my direction, my return wave is hesitant. “Are you waiting for me?” she says, smiling broadly.
I haven’t had my coffee yet and the brain isn’t fully functional. Finally, I manage to ask, “Are you Celina?”
“Yep, that’s me!” she says and bounds across the floor to my table. She shows me what she’s holding: a VoiceCatcher bookmark.
Everything about this woman screams, “ALIVE!” Judging by our all-too-short conversation, she dives into experiences headlong, with little hesitation and no fear.
Celina has been a Jehovah’s Witness missionary in Japan, a Muslim wife in Malaysia, an English major, a nanny, a radio sex talk show host, and a graduate student of genetics and human sexuality.
Currently, she’s an improvisational spoken word artist, a steampunk fashion model, a post-partum doula, a self-published author of three poetry chapbooks under the pseudonym Celestial Concubine, and a co-editor of the first three online issues of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions.
On the horizon for Celina: a job as a nanny in New York City and the possibility of mentorship with a professional dominatrix. Not kidding. She’s also just getting started as a freelance ghostwriter and editor.
And I can tell this doesn’t cover everything; it’s only a glimpse into what she does and who she is.
When asked, “Why are you moving to New York?” her immediate answer is, “Why not?”
Celina self-published her chapbooks by using friends’ art for the covers, having the pages copied and bound at Kinko’s and hand cutting frames into the covers. But she didn’t stop there. When her most recent chapbook came out, she threw herself a book release party. She rented the space ahead of time, choosing a date before she’d even started making the chapbook; sent the invitations; and was still cutting out rectangles in the cardstock covers with an X-Acto knife as people came up to her at the party to buy a copy.
Once, Celina had a high fever. She woke up the next morning to find the fever gone and a poem on her computer.
She decided to print copies of this poem, entitled “Give It All You’ve Got,” roll them up into little scrolls and pass them out from time to time – on the street, at the mall, wherever. She’d just walk up to someone and say, “This is for you.” She estimates she’s handed out thousands of these poetry scrolls.
Sometimes she’ll be invited into a stranger’s house and see her poem on their fridge, and she knows she’s touched someone’s life.
One day several years ago Celina saw a flyer for an open mic at Tony’s Tavern on May 13, her birthday. She took it as a sign. “I’m going to go to that open mic and I’m gonna read at least one poem. Even if it kills me.” That was her 23rd birthday. She went every week for the next year and a half.
Eventually she read at other open mics. “It was completely different and exactly the same. Here are people being honest about their lives.”
Some of the topics Celina writes about: rape, teenage abortion, spirituality, gender identity, and sexual identity. She writes about things she has struggled with or is struggling with, and she publishes, she says, “Because people said, ‘Thank you. I want more,’ and I said, ‘Okay, let me get on that.’”
She’s gotten feedback that her poetry has helped people. “In getting books out there I hope that somebody who needs to hear them will find them.” As a result of publishing, she’s also had people approach her offering to help her through some of her own struggles.
She also does improvisational spoken word, sometimes opening for bands at places like The Blue Monk, The Jade Lounge, and The Secret Society Ballroom. She’ll have a line or theme in her head, get up on stage and just start speaking. Out comes a poem.
Or she’ll do something she calls “The Game,” where she’ll ask for words from audience members and then use those words to speak a poem on the spot. “Being present and speaking is just what I do,” she says.
She says the improvisational poems “turn out to be some of [her] most creative poems,” and she describes the process as “magical.”
I’ve only just started reading my work in public and can’t imagine being brave enough to do improvisational spoken word. But I can see the value in spontaneous creation. So I ask her how people like me might find other strategies for injecting spontaneity into our creative processes.
Celina thinks for a moment and then says, “I was really scared of my words.” My heart clenches in recognition and I have to hold back the tears. In order to not feel afraid, she used to get drunk to write, and then she found that what she wrote while drunk were “true things, honest things.” She shared those writings with people, and they liked them.
She encourages people to figure out what they need to do to stop holding back. It could be something small or it could be a big life change, like distancing yourself from people who don’t support you.
“My advice is to stop being afraid. And whatever it is you need to do to stop being afraid, do it.”
Celina Wigle is an Oregon native and graduate of Portland State University’s English Literature program. Her mystic alter ego, the Celestial Concubine, has produced three chapbooks and a spoken word album. Celina has spent three seasons as co-editor of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. In her spare time she cares for new families and babies as a postpartum doula.
Editor’s note: VoiceCatcher will miss this dynamic, multi-talented woman who, over the past four years, has stepped up to volunteer whenever we needed her. Celina has staffed our Wordstock booth and our used book sale; she was the first to respond when we sent out a call for editors for our online literary/art journal; she recorded our March, 2013 Central Library reading and produced the version that now appears on Lewis and Clark College’s “Oregon Poetic Voices” (oregonpoeticvoices.org). Whenever we needed an extra hand or a creative push, Celina was there.
We are grateful for all you have done for VoiceCatcher, Celina. You will always be a part of our community. And, Big Apple, watch out! You’re in for a creative jolt!
S. H. Aeschliman is a native Oregonian living in Portland with her dog, Milton. By day she’s a freelance editor. By night she’s a writer, reader, learner and dreamer. She blogs about culture, travel, food and lifestyle and writes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and cross-genre work. Her prose piece “On Voice” appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions, and she’s thrilled to be volunteering for the organization. You can learn more about her work on her website.