What If?

April 8, 2020 2 comments

Once, I loved a man
who built walls, brick by brick,
only to pretend they weren’t there,
that the illusion was sky,
and I buried my heart in the dirt,
at his feet, because maybe it would grow,
maybe hearts become trees,
and a branch would be wide enough
for some kind of miracle—
I wanted it to make sense,
I wanted him to understand
that love will sometimes break you,
but what if it didn’t?
What if love is a tree
you tend until it dares
to give you fruit?

But some people only know
how to live with clay feet,
and after a rainstorm,
a mess I summoned
with both hands
and a spine full of possibility,
I dug up my heart
despite its howling,
and I took it home
that is to say, here,
in the middle of my chest,
and I let it mourn
the living, I let it count out
all the chances scattered
like stars, all the ways
he almost, but never.

Once, I loved a man
who did not love himself,
who could not see the sky
for all its bright insistence,
who held his hopes
behind his back,
two fingers crossed
out of shame, scared
to face the consequences
of being brave enough
for wanting,
and this is a lesson
that stands out the most:
love is a wild thing
you give freely,
or not at all, and it
will grow, even under
the poorest conditions,
always beautiful
even when its full breadth
is unseen.

If you listen, you can hear
the heart-quiet now,
content, an unexpected lullaby
singing in the distance,
not love, but wind-wild,
something like roots
and a forest fire,
the sharp pitch
of a rough softness,
and it makes me question
everything,
but not what might
grow.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

Some Words in the Madness

April 4, 2020 4 comments

One of the hardest things I ever did was watch my mom die.

Now, almost eight years later, I can still recall everything in excruciating detail. It’s strange—the things your mind holds on to in the aftermath of trauma, heightened by hypervigilance and grief. Does pain sharpen memory recall? Sometimes, I suppose, but not always. But profound moments, good or bad, are often indelible. For me, my mother’s death was life-changing, as predictable and almost hollow that phrasing is.

Her death was not unexpected—she was terminal. It wasn’t an if it was a when—only the when was a perpetual question mark. Doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment, buying time one moment after another, bargaining with Death who hovered around the edges of everything for a little over two years.

But you adjust as best you can, sorting out a routine, digging a foundation for a new normal—however temporary it may be. You live with the reality that everything is going to come crashing down, but you can’t really brace for it or plan for it. You can’t mark a date on the calendar and prepare. There’s no way to fortify your heart to lose someone you love, even when you have warning that it will happen.

Lately, the whole world has felt like that, knowing that everything is about to split wide open, because it’s already happening. Maybe not to people you know—yet. Maybe not to people whose first names you know, but who you see at the coffeeshop, who drive the bus you normally take, who sort your mail. Or maybe it is already happening to someone you went to college with, grew up spending endless summers with, or know from work.

Whatever the case may be, there’s a whole world full of grief out there, for things that have already happened and for the things we know will happen. And it’s hard to grapple with that kind of worry, that overwhelming feeling of loss, that impossible minefield of what if and when. Grief is mean, even when you know it’s around the corner. But when you aren’t sure which direction it’s coming from? When it’s something, but it has no name yet? That can be utterly exhausting, heartbreaking, and at times overwhelming.

I have read countless stories of people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I’ve scrolled online trying to absorb it all, to maybe bear witness to lives cut short, because the people who are gone deserve that. They deserve to be known. Their families surely deserve more than having to wait by the phone for the call that will take them out at the knees, instead of holding the hand of their loved ones, instead of having the terrible privilege that I had: to watch my mother take her last breath.

And I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do with all this. And maybe you don’t either. Because this is kind of uncharted, chaotic waters. This isn’t anything close to normal. It’s not a normal situation. It’s not a normal setting for grief, either. We are—everyone I know—doing our best to stay home, stay safe, flatten the curve. Even if it isn’t for your own sake, it’s for your elderly neighbor, your parent, your friend with a compromised immune system. Everyone person you love right now, near or far, is someone you are trying to keep safe. Yes, even you reading this right now.

I find myself angry that measures weren’t taken sooner. I find myself frustrated at people in positions of power who don’t just do nothing, but enact further harm by their actions. People much smarter than I can explain the science behind things. We should be listening to the science and those who speak with unwavering clarity, honesty, and compassion. Every single person fighting this on the frontlines—be it doctor, nurse, mailperson, grocery store clerk—is a hero. Period. There is no room for argument there.

But I don’t want to sit here and list all the ways I’m angry, frustrating, howling with something that I don’t really have a name for. I have both too many words and yet not enough. The same goes for feelings.

These are unusual times, and things are probably going to be screwed up for a while. A month ago, I had plans I was very much looking forward to, and it seems like a lifetime ago. But plans can be delayed, and if that’s the worst of it, then I’ll light a candle for a deity of any creed. Right now, life is settling into a waiting period of abnormal normalcy, while we sit and hold our breath and try to survive.

And it’s okay if all you do is get out of bed, some days. It’s okay if you wear your PJs or eat ice cream for breakfast. You don’t have to learn how to paint like Rembrandt or cook like Julia Child. Anyone who tries to tell you differently, that you’ll write the next great novel, because oh my god free time? That person is an idiot and jerk and should be told so. Quarantine isn’t a vacation. It’s not a writer’s retreat.

Here is what I do know. I know what I am grateful for, right now in this moment. I know that to amuse myself, I’ll do Leia buns and record bites of songs and put goofy things on the internet because it might make others smile. It’s cheesy to say that we’re all in this together, even if we’re socially distancing. But yeah, we are. And you can call me Pollyanna, but you won’t be the first to do that—and I’ve been called worse.

Right now, I know the people who matter to me, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense. Feelings don’t ever make sense, and they’re not supposed to. It’s important to check on your people, whomever they may be, and I have made a point to do that. Maybe not perfectly, because goodness, I am far from perfect. But the effort matters, even if it’s just, “Hey, I’m thinking of you,” without any strings attached to it. Sometimes, people just need to know that you care and that you’re there. The sixth love language, after all, is distance: https://psiloveyou.xyz/the-6th-love-language-89e699d6e66e.

I have been lucky, too, that those I love have checked in on me. Sent photos, silly or otherwise. I’ve gotten to do video chats with a whole heap of you awesome weirdos, some still on the books, and I’m loving that. It’s like taking a breath of fresh air in the middle of a forest fire, kittens.

So, hopefully, we will all get through this. Hopefully, we will muddle through this current madness and find our way to the other side.

And when we goddamn do, I have a list of things I’m holding close to my heart. People I want to see. Trips I want to take. Folks I want to hug the ever-loving crap out of. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad you’re here. And if you’re reading this, I adore you.

Stay safe, nerds. XO

Categories: Uncategorized

Elsewhere, a Wolf

March 30, 2020 Leave a comment

A ghost calls, but you do not answer—
that way, you know, lies madness
and sorrow, the soul-split
of both desire and heartache,
a fire made more of damnation
than warmth, and it is buried,
finally, in overdue earth,
salted and left alone—
those bones
were never good
to begin with.

And, somewhere, a crow sings,
teal-bright feathers gleaming,
beautiful in its darkness,
its spinning melody
holding new secrets—
and yes, everything worthwhile
is dangerous,
and here, this apple,
and there, this path,
and then—
everything changes,
now what?

These things you leave behind
are not breadcrumbs; no one
is coming to find you,
and you do not need saving—
but you have been cursed before,
asleep to dream awake,
here but only a shadow
of yourself,
and never again that,
never again less,
from here on,
more rose than thorn.

Elsewhere, a wolf howls,
and your heart feels like the moon,
but you do not trust it,
because there’s too much worry
in the waning,
and yet, here you are,
in this forest of nowhere,
stock-still and stubborn,
lost, and yet
content to wander
where others dare not go.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

About Wildness and Beauty

December 31, 2019 2 comments

               The year is winding to a close, and it’s unavoidable to take stock in everything. What happened. What didn’t happen. What you did. What you didn’t do. We’re so often taught that the measure of a person’s success is X or Y. We’re taught to weigh our lives by accomplishments, as if there’s a checklist somewhere of unquestionable Success.

               Not to upset any apple carts, but I find that measure to be lacking. What I will tell you is what you carry into the new year matters. And so, not to be too Neil Gaiman about it, but:

               In this coming year, I wish you bravery. I wish you to find the courage that’s been nestled in your bones and seize it. I wish you good adventures and wonderful surprises. May you find yourself laughing happily at 3am and dancing around the kitchen just for the sheer joy of it. May you recognize the importance of your own happiness not as something selfish, but something necessary for life. You can draw breath, punch a clock, and stay safely within the lines someone else has drawn—but is that true happiness?

               May you kiss someone who thinks you hung the moon, whose smile changes into starlight when they see you, whose arms feel like home in the purest sense of the word. May you be bold enough to start over if you need to, but wise enough to embark upon it kindly. May you find yourself appreciated just as you are, not less. Real love is messy, often ridiculous—embrace it. It’s the only thing that makes this difficult life worth all the myriad trouble.

               Hearts are strange creatures, but when you find a steady one—despite all the calamity of life—that’s a rare offering. When an impatience person shows infinite patience, may you appreciate it. May you know your own wildness, your own solid courage. May your soul be lighter in pursuit of what makes your face light up. What brings you unquestionable joy.

               Life is complicated, messy. Make art through it all. Approach things with a borrowed boldness, if you must. But don’t count yourself out, ever. This universe is wide and often unexpected. There’s always the next moment. There’s always the next yes.

               Let’s let next year be about wildness and beauty, love and all its insanity, hope in all its defiance. I’ll meet you on the other side of the chaos, kittens. I guarantee you it will be worth it.

the vulnerable truth

October 16, 2019 2 comments

I’ve often been labeled as too much for a variety of reasons. I’m too loud, sometimes. I have too many opinions. But mostly, I feel things right down to the marrow. It’s a blessing and a curse, because feelings are hard. (In truth, though, I think trying to mash feelings down is way harder; there’s a particular exhaustion in denying yourself, essentially. It leaves you constantly on the run.) There have been times where I’ve tried to be quieter, less, small. There have been times where I’ve tried to tamp down, well, everything.

Turns out, tiny hurricanes don’t really fit in a box. Something always gets broken. (It’s often me, but hey, I’m not dead yet.)

I’ve always had my own sense of timing. It’s generally not convenient. To start, I was born over three months early and, you know, almost died. Since then, I’m still incredibly me when it comes to when I do and say things. I’m unconventional, even if I’m weirdly traditional in some respects. As it is, I often hold things in until I absolutely can’t, and it all tumbles out in a heap. It’s never pretty, but the honest things about life rarely are.

Words, I’ve noticed, can be dangerous. Once said, you can’t reel them back in. You can’t unravel them, you can’t undo. If you feel a thing, but don’t say it out loud—it’s a shadow of a thing; it has only a nebulous kind of power. But truth always finds its legs, even when we are trying to run away from it. We’ve all been guilty of that—trying to avoid the truth, like it’s a monster, a villain. Something easily ignored.

But you cannot hide from it forever. You cannot run from your own heart, either. It’s a persistent creature, and if you sit still for a moment, you can always hear it.

I’ve come to the realization, lately, that truth is often dependent on the angle of a story–the person telling it. I’ve been the villain before, the bad guy, the too much–but that’s someone else’s version of me. Is that reflection real? Yes, maybe. We’re never just one thing in this world; no one is flat, one dimensional, uncomplicated.

I know who I am, in all my mess. Few people see it. So many folks are content with bits and pieces, filling in the gaps along the way. And that’s not criticism; it’s human nature. Humans are always difficult, even in the best of circumstances.

I remember having a conversation a couple of years ago, where I told a person that I absolutely hated X. I listed the reasons why, expressed frustration. Five minutes later in the conversation, he said, “You really like X, huh?” And wheeeew, okay. That was really the end of that date. Listening is a deeply important skill. I know what it’s like to be truly listened to, and I won’t accept anything less than intense, open interest. Because listen with every fiber of my being; it’s so important to hear and see people as they are. Without it, you can’t really appreciate someone. See, the trick isn’t to always agree with someone or to conform to a smaller version of yourself. It’s to be exactly who you are and see who runs and stays–moreover, who appreciates you and your truth, even when it clashes with theirs.

Another conversation, a few months prior to that one, maybe even a year–someone who I thought saw me thoroughly and deeply remarked that I would do well in a city. He even went so far as to say I’d flourish. And it stopped me dead in my tracks, leaving me to tilt my head sideways. You see, I love cities. I think they’re amazing and great. NYC is one of my favorite places to visit. Montreal is eight different kinds of magical.

But I hate crowds. I get overwhelmed easily sometimes and just need nature and silence. I like my space. I have been spoiled by distance, throughout the years. So, while I can navigate a city, hail a cab like a champ, and enjoy being able to eat a million different kinds of food–cities aren’t for me.

But he thought they were. It suited the version of me he’d fashioned into his head, cobbled together from pieces of me and pieces of what he needed me to be. But that’s not who I am.

I know what it’s like to be seen and appreciated, just as I am. For all my intelligence, humor, chaotic mess, nervous flailings, and deep beliefs. My truths are often sideways. You’ll never find me using a jar of pasta sauce, but I’ll eat Kraft mac and cheese out of nostalgia. I know what it’s like to be knocked down by loss, and that may make me hold on to things tightly–but only when they matter. I hate fighting, and I never do it without a damn good reason. So, when I decide to fight, it means something. (I loathe conflict, so.)

At the end of the day, I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not even tea. I’m coffee, which is basically rocket fuel–and never decaf, because that’s essentially burnt despair. I’m not really rational in certain instances, but I can fake it when I have to. I’m impulsive, but honest even when it makes me want to die. Or crawl under the dashboard.

I’ve never been very good at staying inside the lines, but life begins outside of our comfort zones. Life flourishes when we are brave.

And at the end of the day, I know I’m not too much–for those who see me as I am.

Categories: Uncategorized

Same Goes for Love: Seven Years

August 7, 2019 Leave a comment

 

 

Last week, I was talking to a friend about how the anniversary of my mom’s death is today. And I hate using that word—forever and always—because anniversaries are supposed to be happy. It’s hard to feel happy, when you’re sad. And some years, it’s okay. And some years, it’s just…not. It’s impossible to predict how it’ll go, because grief—although seven years have passed—is a chameleon of a feeling. It changes shape, but never vanishes.

Still, as my friend reminded me, it’s important to celebrate that person. And my mom, for all her faults and the times we didn’t get along (possibly because of my faults), she was a really good person. The kind of person who always went the extra mile, without having to be asked, without expecting anything in return. She just did nice things because that’s who she was. And I’m not sure I understood, growing up, how rare that is. To an extent, I knew how lucky I was. But sometimes, you can only fully grasp something through its absence. Same goes for love, when it vanishes. Like the tide rushing in, there’s a void with its own precise pull. Inherently, it’s neither bad nor good. It’s just there.

Once, my mother secretly flew my best friend across the country to surprise me for my birthday. To the day, it’s the coolest thing anyone has probably ever done for me, and it’s a solid yardstick for grand gesture (on both their parts—my best friend is the actual best, and I am lucky). My BFF walked into the house like something out of a movie, and well, if you want to impress me—I’m not saying you have to fly across the country, but. That kindness, that genuine show of unconditional love, is a big part of who my mother was. If I succeed in being half as kind and half as demonstrative as she was, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever told you the time I dreamed up the desk that I wanted. I had this idea of a grey and black marble table with a black, wrought iron base. I was close to twenty at the time and just muttering about it. My old desk was ancient and a sad little heap of leftover childhood. But my mother? She went out and found the exact desk I’d imagined, and I’m still not convinced it wasn’t witchcraft. I still use it, although I’ve chipped a corner and scratched the surface a bit.

Love isn’t, of course, about things. You can’t measure it in gifts, and I never have. I can measure it in the innumerable times my mother stayed up with my while I had a fever. (I was a sick kid, growing up. Being born over three months premature will do that to a human.) I can measure it the myriad times my mom volunteered at my school, when I was a kid. I can even measure it in the times we argued over what, exactly, was I doing at a particular moment. That always came from a place of love, too, because she just wanted me to be happy.

In the end—that is to say, close to the end—my mom made it clear that she wanted me to be happy. Even if she didn’t understand what made me happy, she supported it. Although, it was a rocky road getting there. In truth, my mom spent her whole life trying to make sure those in her life knew that they were loved. In small ways, in big ways. It was who she is—never leaving room for doubt, never failing to show up.

That is a gift she gave me, too. I’m naturally a CareBear, who hugged her bus driver and learned to walk because her oldest friend was across the room and wanted a hug. Proof that I will always chase after what I want, even if I’ve never done it before. There’s always a first time. But back to the point: I strive to make sure everyone I care about knows it, without question and without strings. Because love isn’t a tally you keep about what you get out of a relationship. It’s about seeing someone’s face light up. It’s about the small gestures that can turn a whole day around. It’s the details that make up a life, and the lengths you go to, to tuck someone into the heart of your life.

Today, I am remembering that unconditional love. That unshakeable, undeniable kindness—the uplifting gestures and moments. I know what love is, and I know what love can do. It’s not always easy, but it adds more good than bad to a life. It’s not always safe, but it makes you feel safe. It’s not always simple, but honestly, if it isn’t a little complicated, I don’t understand it. Love, when it’s real, stands the test of time—regardless of distance or circumstance. And that includes death.

So, if you’re so inclined and feeling brave, go out and be the love you wish to see in the world. Make someone feel cared for, without a single hitch or expectation. Do a random act of kindness. Text a friend and tell them you’re thinking of them. Give someone a sincere, unexpected compliment. Tell a stranger you like their hair.

And, if you’re really brave, kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. Tell them just how wonderful you think they are. And make sure they feel it. Tomorrow isn’t certain. Today isn’t either. What would you do, if you knew today was your last breath? Go be brave, darlings.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Messy Love Letter to FLEABAG

May 30, 2019 1 comment

YO. SPOILERS. Don’t read if you haven’t seen Season Two. And if you HAVEN’T, GO DO THAT NOW.

 

At the beginning of season two, Fleabag turns to the camera and quips, “This is a love story.” And, as she usually is during those furtive asides, she’s right. It is a love story, but it’s not just about one kind of love. It’s about love in the wake of grief (the loss of their mum). It’s about the love between sisters (Claire and Fleabag always show up for each other, despite their clashes). It’s about loving yourself, even when you make a mistake (too many examples to list, but Claire’s awful haircut comes to mind). It’s about loving yourself enough to walk away from things that don’t make you happy, not really (Martin, because good god, he’s a proper shit, isn’t he?).

And along with all that, it’s about unexpected, unlooked for, tricky love. Love that makes you question things, upends your whole world. Because it’s not a shallow connection. No, it’s a real and deep one, and holy hell, that is scary. Obviously, I’m talking about the relationship that develops between Fleabag and Hot Priest (Andrew Scott can kiss, because I nearly swallowed my own tongue just sitting there).

As the season progresses, the relationship between them deepens and grows. It starts as an attraction, but then careens off a cliff into something more. Why? There are a few reasons. The character of the Priest is so perfectly flawed. He’s awkward (the bit about not knowing how to talk to babies), sweary as hell (fuuuuck), and purposefully open, even when he’s unnerved by it. And that is quite interesting. Scott portrays him as playful, messy, and deeply aware. I mean, on one hand, he’s a dork who reads, likes extravagant robes, and drinks G&T out of a can. On the other hand, he really sees people. Specifically, Fleabag, who people constantly misinterpret, chastise for being herself, or outride deride (again, Martin).

The awareness of the character is incredibly alluring. It’s that recognition that tips the pulse—Fleabag’s and the audience’s—to race. The Priest isn’t simply hot because he’s forbidden. No, his hotness increases exponentially because he sees Fleabag—and tells her when he does. In a way, he intrudes on her peace just as she intrudes on his. As the show progresses, her deadpans to the camera become less and less, because she no longer needs to disassociate. She doesn’t need to escape or collect herself. Because she’s incredibly, painstakingly present.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge taps into something very real: our desire to be seen and understood as we are, hot mess and all. Not the polished version we present to the world. The Priest disrupts Fleabag’s coping mechanism (retreating), which opens the door for her healing (the grief of her mom, her best friend Boo–up until the Priest, she’s been chased around by her pain and guilt). These two characters challenge each other, meeting in a clash of ideological separateness. He calls her out from her hiding place and on her own actions: “Fuck you, calling me ‘father,’ like it doesn’t turn you on just to say it.” I’ll admit, I had to pause the show for a moment, because, like Fleabag, I was also stunned. The almost casual audacity of his honesty was alarmingly attractive, even when he was struggling with it. There’s an electric rawness to their interactions—something that can’t be articulated, but you know it when you see it.

There’s also an element of inevitability to the relationship. It’s clear that the attraction is there, but the question is: give in or not? Do they, as it were, kneel to it? Eventually, we all do. And even though, superficially, the Priest goes to Fleabag’s to assure her they won’t be physical, you have to wonder who he’s really saying that to—her or himself? And it’s truly the latter. It’s a very real moment of someone trying to convince themselves that what they want won’t happen, right up until the moment where it does.

I found it fascinating that he stops by wearing his priest outfit, as if it’s armor. A way to cause a separation between them, perhaps a way to remind himself of his commitment to God. But he was wearing it in the previous confessional scene, so the choice is fascinating. We’ve seen him out in the world wearing regular clothing—in those moments with Fleabag, when he’s simply not a man of God. But again, he puts himself in the exact situation he wanted to avoid, knowing the upheaval it meant. And that is a brilliant kind of bravery. He could’ve run away. He could’ve spoken to her in full daylight, out somewhere that didn’t have perpetual sex lighting and a bed. But he didn’t, which is a reminder that we often know exactly what we’re doing and why, even when we say we don’t (the therapist said as much).

In the end, Fleabag and the Priest walk, literally, in opposite directions. He’s trailed by a fox, which is arguably a manifestation of his faith. They love each other, and that ached in such a beautiful way. The writing is brilliant, but I have to wonder, when he told her “it’ll pass,” was he speaking to her or himself? And did he truly mean it? Because love isn’t a kidney stone, even if it sometimes hurts like one.

In the closing moments, despite the heartbreak dampening the air like the rain, the audience knows that Fleabag will be okay. She gives us a last look, before turning her back. In that, she’s walking away not only from the Priest, but of the old habits she used to lean on as a crutch before the Priest. She’s changed; their relationship changed her, quite obviously for the better. And that’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? Love that leaves us better than we were before. That’s what unselfish love does. It sees and restores.

The hopeless romantic in me realizes that the Priest is right when he talks about how difficult love is, how much it sometimes hurts, and how much it feels like hope. Love is absolutely, maddeningly terrifying. But it’s also life-changing and healing, often in hideously unexpected ways.

In the first episode of the season, Fleabag walks into a family dinner and meets a man who sees her—in a room full of people who don’t. When she’s at her worst, he doesn’t run. He pries her open and holds up a mirror. It’s a mess, but it’s real. And in the end, it’s a multilayered love story. Sex features in it, but it’s not the focus—although, it’s the culmination of things we already know to be true. In fact, consider that Fleabag outright sent the Lawyer away—the best sex of her life—in favor of real connection with the Priest. In that scene, it’s real intimacy that she’s after. There’s a hunger, too, when she and the Priest kiss; it somehow manages to illustrate that soul-deep intimacy that’s so rare. (And god, when you find it. Whew.)

Yes, the season was a love story. It was Fleabag learning to love herself, through the love of someone else. The Priest held up a mirror that allowed her to transform her own understanding of who she was. Sometimes, we all need reminding that we are worth loving, even when we are difficult. In fact, I’d argue that’s when we most need love.

And yes, the show made me fall in love with a Hot Priest. As someone who was raised Catholic, that made me quite uncomfortable—but it also resonated wonderfully. No one controls who they love, what their heart wants. And often, the only way to honor that is to surrender to the whole mess. Plus, anyone who bonds over Piglet has a place in my heart.