Darling, sometimes love is a battle that you are fighting from both sides. Your heart is two hemispheres, reaching for separate outcomes. The world spins on the axis of your erratic pulse. Close your eyes, and it is all stardust – the burning out of a star from millions of years ago. Forget the armor. Forget crest you once wore. All honor changes with time, and what you love demands its own worth. Take a breath, and show yourself how you feel. Unclench your fists and fight that way: without weapons. It is a risk. It is one way to break your own heart. It is also the most beautiful way you can save it.
Tell the truth. Do not tell it slant. Peel it out of every word you’ve been too afraid to say. This is your story. This is proof that good people do terrible things. Sometimes, a broken promise is a miracle. It is water changed to wine, stone changed into a heart, and a love so fierce that takes the place of a pain so vicious. Mistakes are how we learn to breathe again. Nothing clean is ever quite true. Worship the knife edge, the spilled coffee, and the feel of fingers slipping into your hand.
Sometimes, the map is half-burnt, and you are wandering in circles. Sometimes, you are an ocean made of someone else’s desires. Sometimes, you light the funeral pyre yourself to put somebody else’s mind at ease. There are a hundred different ways a soul can burn. There are a hundred different ways a soul can swim. But of all the secrets, this one is the truest: love is a forest fire, and we are all the driest of trees.
I can still taste the ashes in my mouth from the last time you kissed me.
*”Heart on fire, ashes everywhere
— there’s no return from a red like that.” ~ “Fado Menor” by Manuel de Freitas
This has been a crazy year. There were good, bad, and bananas things. To say that I’ve learned a lot is an understatement. Because, honestly, if I’m not learning – I’m doing life wrong. Because life is about trying. It’s about making mistakes. It’s about putting yourself out there, in whatever fashion that might be. Making art, for instance. Trying a new hobby. Saying I love you. Traveling somewhere all by yourself. Meeting people.
To me, that’s the important thing about life: living it. Being present. Finding, stealing, and savoring moments. There are three things I couldn’t live without: love, laughter, and coffee. Let’s face it: no one wants to be around a non-caffeinated me. It’s not pretty. But, to me, those are such vital things. Without love, I’d cease to exist. I am nothing without my idiotic, somewhat spastic, completely willful heart. A sense of humor, too, is a must; there have been things, over the years, that I would not have gotten through, if it weren’t for a sense of humor. I’m not going to list them. You don’t need to hear my scars. Suffice to say, finding humor in the dark parts will help pull you through.
But I feel like I need to say thank you, here (feel free to skip this, if you’re easily bored or pressed for time). To my family and friends, who love and put up with me (even when I’m crazy…which is a lot). To anyone who has ever read something I’ve written – and even liked it! To everyone whose life I’ve been lucky as hell to be a part of, who has touched my life in unexpected, but beautiful ways. To the mad ones, who light up life like stars in the blue-black night sky. To my people, my lost witches, my Gilmore twin, my partners in crime, my Wonder Twin, my darling gypsy witch, and my best friend. To the agents who have blogged, tweeted, and generally been awesome. To my fellow writers and editors who live in this ocean made of words.
It has been a year, darlings. There are moments I wouldn’t trade for the world. Although it has been an especially crazy few days, I’m grateful. I keep thinking about this time, last year, where I was and what I was doing. What was I feeling? Like I’d lost everything and nothing would be the same again. I was reeling in a soul-deep, earthquake way. Since then, I’ve seen, been, done, and loved a lot. I’ve been true to myself. I’ve tried new things. I’ve been open, honest, daring, and probably a wee bit bonkers. I’m proud of everything I’ve learned over the past year.
I hope that 2014 is filled with so much joy, laughter, magic, art, adventure, wonder, love, and honesty. May you face all your shadows bravely. May you always remember you’re not alone. May you kiss someone with reckless abandon, someone who adores and cherishes you. May you make good changes. May you walk right out of your comfort zone and discover new things about yourself. May you laugh until your face hurts. I wish, for you, unexpected blessings, strength, and resolve.
In 2014, be good (and true) to yourself. Believe. Allow yourself to hope and dream, then act on those things. Wish and want, and then do everything within your power to attain those desired things.
For all of you who are in my heart, whether or not I’ve said it lately – I love you. Carry that with you in the new year. Tonight, I’ll be raising a glass to you and making wishes of my own.
*Title pilfered from the incomparable Neil Gaiman.
this happiness is wet; it tastes
like wine, like a kiss
pressed into a prayer, two bodies
like a church, home
and hope in every corner,
in every curve, all the moments
in an hour, singing.
this happiness is slick, it is
rain greeting a rooftop, the way
a look begs for understanding,
and how understanding sleeps
within every brave moment,
full with purpose, quietly
asking to be known.
this happiness is quiet, secret,
a leaf just beginning to turn,
humble as a thunderbolt,
it separates what it must, a touch
that stays long after a hand is gone,
fears bursting into flame.
this happiness is a rebellion,
and there, in a stolen beam of sun,
it began; it is always beginning;
it is always what it is,
perfect with its imperfections,
freckled with desire, fingers
on a trigger, heart like a flood.
this happiness is two hands
and an afternoon, forgetting the door
in favor of an open window,
it is untying knots while shaking,
going through, rather than around,
and running into deep waters;
this is love let out of its birdcage,
your ribcage, flying wild –
flying. Yes, that.
this happiness is wet
as a kiss – a surprise, an inspired gasp
beneath a lover’s hand.
this is why we came.
this is why we come.
this is, itself, a reason.
I hate the term anniversary. Anniversaries are supposed to be happy – full of cake and dinners and fun. Anniversaries are a celebration. So, to call the one year milestone of my mother’s death an anniversary feels wrong. But I don’t know what else to call it. Occasion? No, it sounds like a category for a Hallmark card. Event? That sounds like someone that happens on Facebook. There really is no good, single word that I can conjure up. So, I’ll just say this: it’s been one year since my mom died.
One year. All at once, it feels like it just happened yesterday – and yet, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. Someone else’s lifetime. Someone else’s story. Except, it isn’t. It’s my life and my story, and I haven’t quite work out the plotlines, yet.
Here’s the truth, as I’ve found it. People tell you that it gets better. That time dulls things. That you hurt less or what have you. But that’s a lie. It’s a kind lie, mostly. But it’s still fake currency in the emotional world. It doesn’t really hurt less. I still miss her as if I’d just lost her. Again, there’s a strange word: lost. She’s not misplaced keys. I’m not going to stumble upon her on the way somewhere. She’s not lost. She’s gone. But gone feels wrong, too. Dismissive, I suppose. As if I’d just drank the last of the milk, and now it’s gone. But back on point: it doesn’t hurt less. It hurts differently. The best approximation is having an injury. You get surgery. Bones mend as time passes. Skin knits back together. There may, or may not, be a visible scar. By all accounts, you’re fine. And yet, when it rains or when the wind is slightly chilled, you can feel that old injury. It’s not gone. It’s not the same as it way. It’s just different.
And, honestly, so I am. That is okay. That is what it is. But it has also been hard for me to accept at times. I am not broken, but there are things that hurt now, things that didn’t hurt last year, things that I couldn’t fathom last year. And that, I suppose, is what catches the light, sunlight glancing off a mirror. For the past week, without invitation, I’ve been playing the last week of my mother’s life over and over in my head. Where was I today? What happened that day? I remember feeling a mix of emotions, of seeing and not seeing how everything was happening, of believe and not believing – the emotional paradox of those watching something unspeakable occur. For me, there was no magical thinking. There was no bargaining. There was no avoiding the truth. I stood in front of the train, knowing it would hit me.
And it did. And I’m still here. And yes, it still hurts. Sometimes, that hurt is an odd thing. It makes me stupid. It makes me raw, unexpectedly. Things come out of nowhere, bits of anger that I don’t quite understand, even though I acknowledge them. I see it all happening. I know when I’m left of my own middle. Even still, I know that the world doesn’t set and end on my sadness. It shouldn’t. It can’t.
But that also doesn’t mean I’m invincible. I’m a big believer in calling out my own weakness, and so I will tell you this: right now, I am sad. I am okay with that sadness. I have made peace with its inevitable, indeterminable existence. Sometimes, it wears my smile, half-cocked. Sometimes, it throws me in a corner. Sometimes, it leaves me bewildered. But you know what? It also does not own me. It may sneak up on me, pick the lock, and sit on the couch – but it does not own this house. It isn’t me.
Honestly, when I first sat down to write this point, I didn’t know what I’d say. Then I had too much to say. Part of me wanted to talk about my mother – who she was, what I miss, and all the little details that fill up the space of a relationship. But today is not a day meant to mark who my mother was. It’s a day to recognize her absence.
It’s been a year. Not an easy one. At times, an insane one. I have been on all ends of every spectrum. I’ve grown. I’ve laughed. I’ve loved. I’ve been broken and breaking. I’ve seen and done and followed my heart. Maybe in ways that I couldn’t before. Maybe with the perfect abandon everyone always talks about. I’m not afraid of being a fool. I’m not afraid of trying. Because I know that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. I know that it’s a gamble. I know that it’s an uncertainty that we try not to acknowledge. I’m acknowledging everything. The good. The bad. The crazy. The wild and wonky.
The past year has taught me a lot. I know what I’m capable of. I know what scares me. I know that what I’m scared of is never enough to stop me. I know what I want, without question. I’ve found things in the absence. I’ve found beauty in the shadows, and I’ve dug memories out of the silence.
If you’re me from a year ago – if you world feels like it’s been wrecked by an earthquake and Godzilla – know this: it’ll be okay. It won’t be the same. But you’ll find your way through it. Not around it. There is no shortcut. There’s no passing go. There’s just straight through the mountain. It will not get better. It will not magically be a not sad thing. It will just be different.
And that’s okay.
“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