This is how it starts:
you dream she is a witch,
all dirt and bone, only secrets
in her smile. You watch as she
dances and imagine the flames,
her heartbeat like scraps of dry wood
burning. You think of the ocean next,
how you’ve seen her in its mist,
early morning without a word
of clothing on – just that unbound look
and those eyes, dark and deep
like a memory
you could never let go of.
Her love is a red song
you hear as a spell, kisses cast
like chants, stones overturning
in her wake – circles breaking
and broken, leaving new sunlight
behind and ahead. This is her magic,
heart like a forest
full of wolves, howling, she leaves
a new beginning on your doorstep,
no questions asked – the challenge
is simple, achingly honest:
do you take it? Do you dare
let the witch in?
My first solid memory of Robin Williams is seeing Aladdin in the movie theater with my family and my oldest friend’s family. It was a preview showing, and I remember thinking that it meant we didn’t get to see the whole movie, so I excitedly told Mandy, “And when it comes out in the theater for real, it’ll be even longer.” You’ve never seen a momma give a kid the “Oh, honey no” look faster than my mother. Silliness aside, from that moment on, a love of Robin Williams was born.
And he stayed with me all throughout my childhood, filling up my adult life at all the right moments, with all the right things. From Mrs. Doubtfire (“I saw it all – it was a run-by fruiting!”) to The Birdcage (“I made you short?”) to Dead Poets Society (I once gave a speech standing on a desk because of this movie, no lie) to The Crazy Ones (I loved the hell out of Simon Roberts), Williams made me laugh, look at things differently, realize it is okay to be weird, and examine life from every odd angle. You see, the people who teach us things aren’t always those we ever meet. Sometimes, it’s a writer’s work. Sometimes, it’s a singer’s lyrics. And sometimes, it’s an actor/comedian.
I remember the HBO special Williams did sometime after 9/11. I sat on the phone (the house phone, guys – not a cell phone) with my best friend for the entire duration of the special. We watched it together in a roundabout way. Dead Poets Society, when I first saw it, hit me hard – because I loved the idea behind it. I loved Keating and the way he was unfailing true to himself, striving to teach those around him to stop playing it safe and staying within the lines. There was such a ferocity and passion to his portrayal. There was such truth in it.
His death is senseless. It’s hit me harder than any other celebrity death. I heard the news while I was eating dinner, and I literally gasped out loud. Williams felt larger than life, a passionately funny man who was forever making people laugh. But it’s those people, sometimes, who are most vulnerable to depression. There are times where that bravado is an act, a defense mechanism, a deflection to keep people from seeing. I have plenty of friends who have suffered from mental illness. I have plenty of friends who are recovering addicts of all kinds. It is moments like this where we should remember to check on our people – especially those who may seem okay, but that haven’t been in the past.
Last week, on the anniversary of my mom’s death, someone very dear to me called to check on me and see how I was doing. It meant the world to me, truly. It made the day better. But I felt myself slipping into class clown mode a bit, cracking jokes and putting on an unplanned comedy show. It wasn’t intentional, and I knew that I was doing it. I just couldn’t stop it. That’s partly a defense mechanism. But at the time, I knew that I wasn’t fooling him at all. He knew I was sad. I knew I was sad. It was kind of an open secret. And it worked out okay, because I admitted it all later on.
My point is this: don’t let your pain be an open secret. If you’re sad, say something. If you need help, ask for it. Reach out. Reach out in whatever way you can. Call a hotline. Tweet something. Text someone. Email someone. I know that it’s hard when it’s dark. I know that it’s not easy when you’re in pain, and you’re surrounded by every devil that’s ever visited you. Fuck the devils. Fuck the demons. You’ve got people. And some of us my be far away – but we’re here.
Williams death reminded me, again, that life is too damn short, sometimes. And we would all do well to play hooky sometimes, love hard, love out loud, and make space in our lives for the little stupid joys that we too often attempt to shove aside because of expectations and obligations. Screw that. Stand on your desks. Write poetry. Spend the damn day naked with someone you love and who loves you back. The darkness doesn’t go away just because someone loves you. It’s not a cure-all. But love, guys, makes the darkness not seem so bad – it makes the bad stuff and the worries easier to handle.
Today, I’m remembering Williams as a man who made me love to laugh more than any other actor or comedian. Today, I am remembering my Captain, O’ Captain. And you can bet your last dollar that I intend to suck every last bit of marrow out of life. What about you?
I’ll be the first to admit that life is complicated. So, the little things we do to be present in each other’s lives matter. The small gestures that say, simply, “I’m here.” We often make the mistake – in the age supersizing, reality tv, and people who spend a year’s salary on their wedding – of thinking that only the gigantic, over-the-top gestures matter. That is, quite honestly, untrue.
There’s a line in an e.e. cummings poem (“somewhere i have never travelled”) that has always stuck with me. It’s this: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me. Sure, you can read assume that the word “frail” means weak or fragile. But in the context of the poem itself, I’d argue that it means small – as in a simple, non-grand gesture. The little things, however frail, matter.
Life can be crazy and intense. The day-to-day bullshit can be hectic. But those people who stop in the middle of their crazy to show you that they care? Appreciate them. They are the people who love you. You can have a billion friends, but the ones who you can call when you’re sad – or who call you when you’re sad – those friends matter. This past week, I was really lucky in the people who made a point to show me how much they care. A phone call meant the world to me. A text message made me smile. Even a brief message as simple as, “Thinking of you” made me happy. Stress might be cumulative (the little annoyances adding up), but I like to think that the small gestures are cumulative, too. These things offer comfort, reassure us, tell us we’re important, and (most importantly) that we are loved. And we all need to know that, don’t we?
When I first started to write this post, I had an entirely different goal. I had this revelatory moment about a friend – when I realized that person really isn’t my friend. Sure, we get along great. We’ve had awesome times together. But there’s a point when you’re objectively looking at a relationship, and you realize that what’s said and what’s done doesn’t match up. That is a powerful thing. It’s a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, and you were in the wrong place and the wrong time. I’m a very understanding person. I will forever bend over backward and find a way to work things out – because life doesn’t work without compromising. But when a person routinely makes excuses for something, those are not reasons. When a person says one thing, but does another – that’s not honesty. And when that person leaves you hanging like the proverbial geek up the flagpole at all-jock high school – well, that’s kind of a huge red flag. Because while the good little gestures add up, the absence of those gestures do, too.
Life is too short to stay among those who do not celebrate the hell out of us. It is too short to stay surrounded by negativity or those who do not give as good as they get. All relationships need balance – it doesn’t matter if it’s your brother, best friend, lover, or wife. Don’t get me wrong: we all do stupid things from time to time. But when actions are habitual, that’s not an accident. People may not always say how they feel, but they do show you. Likewise, people always show you who they are.
You give for what you love, darlings. It’s as pure and simple as that. Yes, relationships are messy. Things will never be perfect. But the mess is what matters, because it’s real. It’s honest. It’s wonderfully sloppy. (Which explains the current state of my kitchen and the forever state of my closet…please don’t look in there. Organized chaos!) I don’t ever want neat or pristine, because that’s just smoke and mirrors. I want the brilliance of the little things and the honesty that comes with making time and space for someone else. That’s a powerful magic that seems like a small thing. Sure, the big gestures are awesome – but give me a soft word and a meaningful look any day, loves. I want frail gestures that enclose me.
Here’s the thing about me: I often think I’m braver than I really am. It isn’t delusions of grandeur. It might be delusions of hope. Instances of swelling promise that lead me to believe – not that I’m bulletproof – but that I’m tougher than my sensitive nature allows. Most of the time, I can put up quite a good front, which occasionally fools even me.
But today? Today is not one of those days. Today, it’s two years since my mother died, and I thought it would bother me less if I stuck to my routine. Except, that’s not how feelings work. I maybe tried to strong-arm them into submission, only to fail miserably.
People always tell you the same (well-meant) things: it will get easier; you will feel better with time; and it gets better. Except with respect to losing a loved one, it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t get easier. It just gets different. You just learn to deal with it the best you can. This sometimes means crying at ridiculous things and needing people in a way you’re not entirely comfortable with.
Here’s another thing about me: I loathe asking for things from people. Loathe it. If you don’t offer, most of the time, I won’t ask. It is something I’m working on, but for now, it means that if I have asked you for something – I have not done it lightly. And it probably cost me more than it would someone else. I am stubborn. I have a ridiculous amount of pride. And did I mention I’m stubborn? Because I am.
This also means that I love with unfailing strength and passion. Life is short. Life is too short. I know this like I know that the sky is full of unseen stars. Things that happen in our lives often change us. My mother’s death was no exception. I’ve always been stubborn when it comes to knowing my own heart. No one can ever talk me out of my feelings, though a few daring souls have tried. But since my mother’s passing, I made a promise to myself to make a real effort to let those I love know that I love them, even when it may be unwise. Even when it might be inconvenient or difficult. Perhaps especially then. Because no matter what we tell ourselves, or how we try to wall ourselves off, we all need love.
So, in memory of my mother, who loved fiercely and without hesitation, I’m going to ask you this: if you love someone, tell them. Forget all your fear and just say it. Forget all the ways it might not fit into your plan. Forget everything except that feeling.
Be not only brave enough to love – but also brave enough to say it out loud. Don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t try to hold it in. Don’t you dare try to hide it. Because you never know when everything will change. Take this moment, this chance, and seize it. Darlings, you owe it to yourself – trust me on that. Love is not a pet to be kept in a cage – or a madwoman to be hidden in an attic.
Let it out. It’s the truest, scariest, best, wonderful thing you can do in life. Say the words out loud, and you might change a life. You might change your life. And love, revealed, is the absolute best change there ever is.
Everyone warns you about the fire – but nobody tells you about the rain. Every single stolen moment is an act of war, a meeting place where lightning challenges thunder and vice versa. We are always seeking a balance, carving out a space somewhere between safety and destruction. This is what love looks like, when you place it in the middle of a hurricane. This is what desire looks like when you let it loose. These matches are mine, darling. The catch is I’m already burning – I’ve always been burning. There’s nothing left to do but greet the rain.
Call it an opportunity. Call it release. But don’t call it anything less than miracle. I know how to revel in the quiet just as well as anybody, but I much prefer the chaos of two bodies, the way your breath catches, and the passionate vulnerability we’ve conjured.
Love is a crossroads. I’ve always been here, choosing and chosen. I’ve left offerings in all directions. I’ve tasted both salt and apples. I’ve followed the crow. I’ve been companion to the wind. I’ve gone barefoot in the grass. This is where we are now, but not where we will always be. These candles are lit, even as the rain comes. I have lit them for you.
O ushalin zhala sar o kam mangela. (The shadow moves as the sun commands.)
Nashti zhas vorta po drom o bango. (You cannot walk straight where the road is bent.)
May mishto phabol o kasht o chordano. (Stolen wood burns better for being stolen.)
Kaski san? (Whose are you?)
I have become bottomless
in the very best way, heart open
and devouring, only to replace
what it’s taken
with things of greater value –
this is the way your hands
make me feel, a strange
kind of limitless possibility
that feels like magic.
But this is not magic,
not parlor trick, not smoke
and not misdirection – no,
this is the way the wind feels
when it’s falling, this is a bird
marveling at its wing,
this is not something
I have a name for – perhaps,
perhaps some things
don’t need a name.
It is the middle of the day
and I’m wonderfully useless, thinking
only of the way your hands braid into mine,
thinking of that look on your face
(you know the one), thinking
about all the ways two bodies
close a distance, and hearts,
and lives – sometimes,
moments crack open
and then hearts are stitched up –
that is how you’ve healed me
when I didn’t even know I’d been broken.
I have no instructions for the way
that I feel, no excuses for the things
that I want, and no apologies
for anything. It’s been years,
and I’ve learned this:
there’s no roadmap
for the places you really want to go,
and there no previous experience necessary
when your heart whispers, love.
In all the poems that need
to be written, I find you,
waiting and impetuous,
your heart, like a hummingbird,
halfway glimpsed between
truth and trees –
my days are an open window,
and I invite you in, standing
This summer, I want
to count your freckles
a fate beyond a kiss; I want
to feel so alive
that all the stars break, I want
to be drunk on everything
my heart has no name for,
I want to dare
to drop everything – I want
to gather us up, feeling
much more than a quick step,
let’s go for a long run
and see where it takes us.
desire, let out like steam –
let’s see what happens now,
in this space
I have cleared for you.