There is something about crumpled sheets, getting lost in the sea-tossed moments just before waking up. Swimming in that lullaby of a half-rocked consciousness, lying there, suspended between being and not being. That kind of quiet is rare and never useless.
There is something about pretending the house is on fire – quick, what would you take? What would you be glad to leave behind? Now, pretend your life is that house, ablaze. Who would you love, and who would you leave behind? Tell me: how do the ashes taste? Tell me who you would let burn.
There is something about a kiss – in a car – stranded on the side of the highway. Suddenly, the traffic doesn’t matter. Suddenly, there is no traffic. The world is made of stardust, and your heart is full of night. The wind is dancing in your smile. That kind of kiss stops time, tears the world from its hinges, and does not look back.
There is something about pretending that you have permission to say everything you never thought you could – quick, what would you say? Burn off the silence like your courage is gasoline meeting a lit match. Do not be afraid of smoke. Smoke means change, metamorphosis, exchanging one use for another. Tell me: what word do you have for freedom? How do you conjugate love? Is desire hopelessly made of adverbs?
There is something about learning to run. This is not a time for stillness. This is not a time to collect a river. This is a moment made of rapids, a current of colors, a perfect place to get lost. This is the only way to find yourself. That is, let go. That is, let it out. That is, let. You are the future tense. Your dog-eared past doesn’t dictate your next paragraph.
The house is on fire. Move your feet. Retrieve your heart from the icebox. Do not save such things for later. Later is this minute, passing. Later is a lie you keep telling, one that’s never worked before. The house is on fire. You either get lost in the flames, or you run.
The past few days have been unseasonably cool, beautiful in their lack of humidity, breeze clinging like fall. It’s like a moment taken out of time, dropped here, where it seems impossible, yet it is solid – as distinct as a kiss. This is a preview of fall, a time not yet arrived, although it is my favorite season – despite knowing that winter is just out of sight.
It is a strange thing, this out-of-place reprieve. This disjointed moment of what will be, down the line. It reminded me, oddly, of my lack of patience. My desire to make things different now, instead of planning. Instead of waiting. Instead of letting it all be and watching, quietly, as the world unfolds as it must.
The other day, a friend reminded me of a quote from Doctor Who, “Demons run when a good man goes to war.” It made me think that, perhaps, waiting is another kind of war – a thing we fight with, and in, ourselves. A conflict that can only be resolved through time itself, and nothing short of a TARDIS changes that. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is nothing. I’ve been learning that recently, and I’ve been trying to be patient. Because, generally, brute force and keening solve absolutely nothing. Yet, like this out-of-place weather, doing nothing seems strange, foreign. So unlike me. I’m a doer. A fixer. A changer. A person who loves action and words. Even still, I am reminded that even the disjointed, uncomfortable feelings have a purpose.
Lately, I think it’s all too easy to forget that waiting can be wise. In today’s world of instant everything (communication, video-on-demand, information, etc.), we are trained (or have been retrained) to expect everything to be fast and immediate. When it doesn’t happen, when there’s a gap and a grace period, there’s a panic that rises – or even an irritation in some people. There’s a feeling of wrongness, because our howling NOW attitude demands to be sated, like some kind of emotional Audrey II. This is Me First, for the digital age. (If you never read that story, I think it’s in free to be you and me.)
The truth is that, sometimes, you have to trust in the unknown. You do, and have done, everything that you can. (Whatever it is. This applies to everything.) Then what’s required is the scary, terrifying leap of faith. Find beauty in the moment, and see what happens. Fix your eyes on the horizon, and trust the current to take you there. Sometimes, letting go of control is the perfect way to get to your destination. Because not everything in life can be planned for, not really. And the important things almost never are scheduled. They just happen. Maybe it’s the right place, right time. Maybe you stopped to tie your shoe. Maybe you sent out a tweet. Maybe this. Maybe that. Life is, often, made of maybe. And there are days where that’s terrifying. Where we crave certainty and solidity like air. There are days where we yearn for proof to act as a talisman against doubt and fear – a tangible cross to ward off the intangible monsters that pace back and forth in our heads. But, perhaps, when we do that we are trying to place our faith in the wrong things. A talisman, essentially, is just an object. A thing. It has power, because we will it to, because we believe it does.
Earlier today, I came across a Margaret Atwood quote that reaffirmed the fact that I’d like to be her when I grow up. However, since I never really plan on growing up, I’d settle for writing a line as perfectly as she does.
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” ― The Penelopiad
Sometimes, we have to remember that we’re water. That going through an obstacle, or a moment, isn’t possible. Going around it, instead, is the wisest course of action. Water is a thing that gives life. It can also drown. Everything in life is like that: half one thing and half another, determined by circumstances and perspective. A marriage can feel like freedom or a cage. Love can feel like magic or a winding sheet. A job can feel like an opportunity or an obligation. There’s a duality to nearly everything.
I have been, for weeks now, trying to be water. Trying to get where I need to go, trying to be where I am, and trying to get around the boulders that seem like mountains. Being like water means trusting in things to take their course, trusting in sanctity of patience. It’s turning off the light to really get to know the dark. It’s chasing the sun. There are a thousand ways to be brave, but only one way to be a coward – that is, to give up. To quit. To nestle in to whatever hell or doldrums you find yourself and accept stagnation.
Water flows. Water is patient. Water does. Remember this. Remember that everything, even a cool day during summer, is a possibility that wasn’t there before. And sometimes, you have to gather yourself before you can get anything done.
this love is an old country, a gathered landscape
of sudden, infinite memories, the capture
of fallen laughter and half-tasted snow.
boundary lines are tested, decisions
thrown out for lack of evidence, jury
hung on a smile, a delicate knock
on an unknown door,
an almost reverent disruption
of things kept under the tongue.
slick, like a song
made of glass, two hearts
wait, love conjured
as a magician’s trick –
secret and soul sawed in half,
but not without meaning.
this is a house made
out of stars, a holy
recollection of those who wander,
the translucent belief
of a soft, solid prayer,
a heartbeat that catches fire,
an hour, vanished,
resting against the dark,
tripping into a sigh.
this is how summer
dresses for the dead, reaching back
toward spring, fingers brushing
the quiet wings of winter,
desire blooming, bright as a meadow,
lighting up the space
like a candle.
this is how the small things
begin to burn, suddenly
and too familiar, smoke
building like a smile, our names
quiet in each other’s throats,
caution caught up in kerosene:
imagine these hours
without fear, fingers
fast on borrowed corners, curves
at once wanting, at once remembered –
what else, but this?
what else, but us?
the building might catch fire,
but the scaffolding refuses to buckle:
this is your reason, descending
late into the afternoon, bare
and begging for relief.
the situation is delicate,
a want that mourns the world,
a love unable to be divided,
a promise unburied,
uncertain in no quarter.
we are terrible
and tender, reuniting here
in the outskirts
of someone else’s gravity, thin air
as sinister as a lullaby, as sweet
as the steel of a stolen heart:
stand against yourself,
against all the universe
real and imagined –
and I will stand with you,
it will make a monster of us both.
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I want to tell you a story. Some of it happened years ago. Some of it happened today. Everything about it is important.
I got a letter in the mail today. Funny, how some things arrive just when you need them. Funny, how some words are said just when they ought to be. Funny, how some people matter – and how they often show you yourself. This letter was from a dear friend. We often exchange letters, telling stories and sharing parts of ourselves. It’s nice, honestly, to see actual mail in the mailbox, not ads or bills.
By the end of her letter, I was completely in tears. By the last line, I cried ugly tears. In the last paragraph, she was talking about me – about who I am, and what I’ve shown her – and she said, “Never stop.”
It reminded me of how often we are told to change who we are. To be this or to be that. To fit in to a mold, when we are told as children to stand out. To stay inside the lines that are so old no one can quite remember who drew them.
The secret is: I’ve never fit in. I’ve always been friendly. People have always, for the most part, liked me. But I remember a friend giving a speech once, about seeing a girl talking to everyone – and how she judged her, formed an opinion based on an easy smile. When she actually got to know her, her opinion changed. That person was me. And it struck me, then, how people tend to judge others in odd ways, for reasons one might not consider. It also reminded me that what you see may not always be what is. Because, as Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
And today, my friend told me, “Never stop.” She meant that I should never stop being who I am. And, let’s face it: it’s not always an easy thing. I’m a little odd. I’m usually well-meaning. And I’m crazy.
But not the bad crazy. Not the boiled bunny version. Not the bitchy version. I’m just…irrevocably marching to the beat of my own taco. Or something. My point is that another person – a few weeks ago – implied that my kind of crazy was somehow…not okay. That maybe I was the wrong kind of crazy. If you know me, you know I take things like that to heart, even when I crack a joke and toss out a smile. The truth of that moment was that it was a dumb thing of him to say. In retrospect, I get it. Sometimes, we say things to push other people away. Because it’s easier. Or we’re scared. Or a myriad of other reasons. If we can make somebody run, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of our own perceived unworthiness.
The thing is, I don’t run. I don’t flinch. And I think that is sometimes…surprising. But that’s another story and a whole bottle of tequila.
This brings us to my story of when I was three years old. I was a precocious little thing, a hank of curly brown hair and completely infatuated with life. At the time, my family was staying at a friend’s house, while we were building ours. My godmother was watching me, and there was a local tornado warning, which was usual for the area. My parents were somewhere else. The place was a farm, and there were cows and shutters – things that needed to be housed and battened down. After all that was done, my godmother was worried I’d be afraid, so she was keeping me distracted. I did something funny, but I don’t quite remember what it was. And teasingly, she turned to me and said, “Alison, are you crazy?” Without missing a beat, three year old me said, “Crazy as a loon!”
I was an unusual kid, but damn, did I mean that when I said. And it’s true. I’m crazy. I’m strange. I am as likely to start singing in the middle of a grocery store as I am to hug you when I see you. But all this talk in my life, recently, about being crazy – and being true to yourself – has really made me stop and take stock. You know, it’s okay to be crazy. And it’s damned okay to be who you are, because who else are you fucking going to BE? I mean it. I’m asking.
You can’t be true to anything else, if you aren’t true to yourself. It’s like trying to build foundation on top of glass. Eventually, that glass is going to crack. Eventually, everything is going to shatter and shift. And then what? Everything you’ve built on top of that false foundation is going to fall. It’s a ugly thing to watch happen. It’s an ugly thing to survive. It’s something that’s survivable, sure. But it isn’t easy.
There’s nothing inherently noble about being, or seeming, normal. It shows a lack of courage. An absence of will. Sometimes, you just need to throw yourself into the fire, or off a cliff, or right into that hot-as-hell volcano. Sometimes, the only real thing to do – the only true thing – is the crazy thing.
Nobody gets anywhere by sticking to the rules or playing it safe. If they did, we’d still think the world was flat, and nobody would’ve ventured into outer space. Skeptics might say it can’t be done. Cynics may say it won’t be done. Others may point out that you look stupid or foolish. But, to quote Ted Hughes, “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”
Nothing else really counts. So, you might as well be crazy. I know that I am. That is, at least, part of my story. What’s part of yours?
I felt it, the moment it started –
thick, like the way heat broils
in the middle of summer,
and three steps to the mailbox
and the desire to strip off
skin and smile, the only ringing thought:
get back inside where it’s safe.
Not, it should be noted, cool.
My heart clicked into place
like clockwork, gears beginning
to shed their rust. I was afraid
of everything, until you. Then,
I pulled every fear out by the roots
and burned them, carefully.
The smoke they made was not pretty,
but it was ugly with a purpose,
It was not a mistake. It is not a mistake.
This is not a prayer. This is belief.
Once, you held me
as if I was the wind:
fragile, impossible. Now,
is when I am about to shatter,
and I am so weightless,
I am weaponized sorrow –
a grenade already swallowed.
This is how I wage war
within myself. This is how I call myself
mistake, without believing it.
This is the way
I peel the fog apart, skipping sleep
and naming all the things
that prefer namelessness.
My heart cannot be hidden.
I tried to tame it. I could not.
I am not sorry.
This is the wildness that you love
about me, passion pricked
by fragility, always unwilling to break,
always ready to bend.
This is how you feel the word want
and need, unexpectedly. This is how love
becomes a rosary you count out
in the dark. This is how the world tilts,
and disaster thins out.
We are dirt
and circumstance, whispers
and abandoned directions.
We are the way rain
swallows a skyline, a ballet
of kisses, words threatening
to wilt on the windowsill –
this is waiting,
because words are useless,
because everything falls eventually
and I know – I know –
that this will fall into place.
I am longing at the top of the stairs.
You are a passion made of ashes
and apples – a reminder
that some things must burn
before others may be eaten.
A reminder that everything
was always something else first,
and nothing worthwhile happens
“Heart on fire, ashes everywhere
— there’s no return from a red like that.”
~Fado Menor by Manuel de Freitas
it doesn’t matter. it never did. it is for the best.
these are the lies we tell ourselves when the world gets dark. when the stars in our souls begin to explode, and our hearts feel impossibly like tinder. the match is always ready. it is foolish to think otherwise. even if your skin feels like the ocean, it will still burn. likewise, a promise made of water means nothing and everything in the desert. always, when it’s night, the monsters come out. the mirror is a monster in its own right. do not place your hand on it, and whisper a name at midnight.
sometimes, it hurts too much. a gasp for air, only to find the ocean swimming into your lungs. sometimes, it isn’t the pain that kills, but a possibility, unexpected. an idea, like an earthquake, shatters the foundation underneath your feet. trouble is, the fault line is in your fingertips. trouble is, the wreckage begins with a smile gone plastic around the edges. a false start that turns into something endless.
but this is not how things end. this is how they begin – coupled with the wrong pronouns, a missed train, a late arrival, a doorbell that rings. happenstance and heartbeats, the way a hand lingers on your back, or your shoulder, living there like sunlight. this is the wayward grace of a window, the promise of green and tomorrow – and tomorrow. this is waking up, with crazy hair and nothing on.
say yes. say love. say please.
then, take a deep breath. then, wait.
this is why we run, hearts filled up with hurricanes. this is how we reappear, with our smiles full of simple magic. this is when we remember who we are, answering the ringing question – who do you think you are? – with a fierce truth.
this is how we are consumed by fire, nurtured by water, lifted by air, and grounded by earth. this is untied hands. this is hope that smells like copper. this is a sunrise that tastes like childhood. this is the way a kiss unravels every lie.
it does matter. it always did. it always will.
*line from the poet Rumi
The idea of history is a strange thing. On the surface, it seems like a heap of facts: this happened. That happened. I did this. He did that. But truly, history is not a recipe. It isn’t a math problem. It is almost a fluid thing – a truth, stark, meant to be covered with feelings. Emotions. A whole picture, a moment made real. Like the scene in the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens the door to her house, only find everything is suddenly in color.
Each of us has, and writes, our own little histories. They sharpen into focus at some points. Other events and instances blur the lines. A sentence is simply not the whole story. A fact is nothing more than half a moment – a moment in shadow. A history – a life – without feelings is like a map with only the outline of a place. A story told without adjectives. It only portrays a fraction of the potential that is there.
While we, undoubtedly, craft our own stories, our voice is altered by those around us. Those people reading over our shoulders and writing in the margins. Those who dare to brave our scribbles, our bad spelling, our most precise description and our nonsense. And yes, all that is a metaphor for other things. Give it all the meaning you wish.
The past – the thing we wrote ten years past or a moment ago – changes as we change. The basic words remain intact, but the adjectives shift. The handing writing shifts: ink takes the place of pencil, from blue to red, from legible to illegible. We obscure deliberately on occasion. We switch languages. We write in small print, edging toward the impossible. Then there are the footnotes. The tiny clarifications. The way our hands shake.
Being in a relationship with someone is a lot like reading a story. The more you pay attention to the details, reading closely, the more you learn. Someone may say something simple, only to have it shift the landscape, or the tone. Every look, every touch, is a potential plot twist. Every confession is a reason to stay or go. You may hear something entirely different than what was meant. Your words may be skimmed. Your emphasis may be misunderstood. And yet, at the end of the paragraph or page, meaning is right there.
Our hearts are made of words – some ours and some belonging to others. Love is a thing of poetry – a heap of sentences that no two people understand the same. Everything we ever dare to write makes up our collected works. Our collected moments. Our history. It’s not something written by those who’ve won – but those who dared to live.