Underneath

Perhaps you thought the words would save you, from what you did not know. If you could only locate the right ones. The ones more precious than any of the hundreds of thousands you had written before in the clouds as they soared by overhead, into a pale gray distance you dreamed to explore.

Morning dawns in your chest, pinks and blues and lightning bolts. I have a dear friend who shares my bed, stalks my mind, and I refuse to believe that he needs me for anything.

Anxiety. (Generalized.) The shaking spreads itself through everything and you are fascinated by its smoothness, obsessed with your inability to collect it back in. Watch over it, wade into it, like an oil spill, black ink slides out across the vast dark ocean of the void.

We open our hearts and touch our lips to one another for want of the emptiness. Thirsty. You are the taste of sunlight falling through trees, the secrets which twist and ache to keep.

Under lock and key, the tongue keeps hidden inside your stifled breath. You tap at the keyboard just to feel your heart beating. Almost surprised, almost, unlikely. There are multiple lives you live all at once and they each ring separately in your ears, hoping to be the one who is heard.

It is hard to tell. It is difficult to hear the answer among the answers.

Above all else. Beyond all the noise and the rattling which exhausts your veins with trembling. When it is very hard to see, I don’t know how the words can save me.

But still, even inside the madness, something believes I should believe.

 

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Photo by Vino Li

Fourteen Years Ago Today, Time Broke Away from Itself

On this day fourteen years ago, my mother died in the back room of the house we opened and closed our lives in. When it was all over, the pine trees stood in the front of the house, reaching, heavy, immobile in the terrible heat.

I want to say the sun was setting because I am certain it was. How could it not? How could it be any other way at the end of everything. I want to say it was dinner time.

But then, suddenly, somehow, it wasn’t.

It was supposed to be something else, it was supposed to be a different time. A longer time. A time so much farther off that we shouldn’t have been able to see it. Let alone hear it in the ringing in our ears as dishes were done. Prayers were prayed. Let alone touch it, here at the center of the heart in our trembling hands.

We will be back, we whispered to her just moments before she made her departure from us forever. Forever, arriving and departing, at dinnertime.

But there would be no eating, for there was no time any of us could understand. No breaking of bread, no explanation, no dinner. Time. There would be tear stains searing down the skin which covered the numbness. There would be I am so sorry, there would be drinking late into the night on the back deck, voices, both familiar and unfamiliar, in the darkness, as she was taken away.

Taken away from us.

Grief moves through you, in and out of each of the shattered windows in your soul, like wind, empty, hollow, invisible, whistling.

Looking for something it cannot name, it cannot find, it cannot see.

For years and years.

 

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Photo by Kristina Tripkovic

On Aligning with Your Soul’s Desire

This isn’t my usual type of content, but fuck it, it’s my space and I feel deeply compelled to write about some of the things that go on in my daily experience right now as they relate to the current climate of revolution sweeping across my country, and across the world.

I was speaking with a very dear and precious friend a few days ago, about living authentic lives, as in: lives which bring us joy, challenge, and fulfillment as women. And how we feel “crazy” when we follow our calling, our spirits, our soul’s desires. We feel misaligned, out of whack, but we also have never felt so alive, so renewed, so fulfilled, gratified, energized.

So OURSELVES.

And I got to thinking maybe we feel crazy when we are aligned with our spirits because our whole lives we were taught what we “should” align with was the world’s expectations of what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to be.

This alignment with false promises put us at odds with who we were truly meant to be. Deep down, we knew it, but couldn’t name it. We longed for ourselves but looked outside instead, as all women are taught to do, for validation.

All our lives we were conditioned to believe aligning with the patriarchy, with capitalism, and with commercialism, was the right thing to do, the right way to be. So when we finally begin to align with our soul’s calling instead, we feel disjointed in exactly the way we are meant to on our journey to our Selves.

We are dislodging from our conditioning so that we may get in order with our Truth.

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Photo by Izabelle Acheson

Flinch

Surrounded by vague-eyed people who don’t mean anything but the possibility of deadly infection to me, my hands are shaking because I’m nervous but I couldn’t tell you why. Haven’t even ordered my large coffee yet, let alone sucked any of it down. Well, maybe I could try to explain but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to hear it, or you’d say you did but once you do you’d wish you never got into it with me in the first place.

I guess I’m just generally like this, just like this in general. Skittish, maybe you might call it, I mean, that’s one of those words that means exactly what it sounds like.

Jumpy.

Eyes which dart around the room looking for something that isn’t there, but could be. At any moment. The walls could shake, the towers could fall, the glass could break in case of emergency.

In the tight air of the coffee shop, sifting fragrant among the brown paper bags of ground coffee stacked neatly on the corner shelf, the various assortment of berry muffins, and the beat up burnt orange over-sized soft leather sitting chairs arranged too close in a dimly lit corner around low tables by the window, there is a kind of tension, an uneasiness I’m sure no one else detects but me.

All they can see are the lines on the floor which mark a safe distance and whatever those watches are that people wear now which tell you everything but the time. All they can smell is dark roast beans and frothy milk, while they can’t see past the ends of their pierced high-rise noses.

Do you see? I can. I can’t help but look and the more I do the more I see that unsettles me.

That’s why I’m so nervous.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

Smile, Girl, It’s Not So Bad

Died of breast cancer. She was 57. Overdose. Dead at 34. Found dead in river. Her remains were discovered. Suicide. She was just 20 years old. Wife of… mother of… daughter of… We will sacrifice your children for the economy. I know it sounds harsh but, honestly, what do you expect? What is life when we have businesses to nurse back to health. Don’t worry so much. We will serve you alcohol until you are blue in the face and run out of money. Casinos now open! where the house wins once in a while and you lose everything repeatedly, the only toss up is whether it happens slowly over time or all in the blink of one night.

This is why I shouldn’t open my phone first thing in the morning, everybody knows that. It was a good weekend spent steadily ignoring everything and everyone else but you don’t want to hear about that. You don’t want to know how I spend my days and nights, you want to know if how I spend them adds up to anything you might want to take with you when you leave here. When you leave me. You want to know if it leads up to anything. Where is this story going? Where is the tension? What is the point?

You and me both, man. Sipping my coffee with sugar and cream and a running tab of the deceased ticking away on the screen. Here is the story behind the story, it is not finished and we avoid reading it let alone writing it. What does it mean to be a woman alive in the world today? Where are we headed if not straight toward the fear of the annihilation of our bodies. Our psyches. Our spirits.

And maybe you will close this tab and forget all about me and this story. Maybe you will decide my ‘content’ is too unnerving, bothersome, ‘pessimistic.’ Rude. Rude of me to say what’s on my mind if it isn’t a little prettier. A little more palatable. Come on, smile, darling. Cheer up. It isn’t so bad. And even if it is, kindly don’t be such a burden; don’t add to the atrocities by, you know, reminding us.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

Pleasure Cage

Darkness rolls in overhead, and I am hopeful. They have been promising rain for days but, so far nothing. This day, though, is different. The air all around is thick with the smell of it, the muggy scent of wormy earth and lemongrass wind. All that is missing is the fire but that’s not out there, it’s in here. In me.

The rain water balances my insides, cools my burning, wets my heat.

I dim the lights, pour tea with honey, and pull a single tarot card, which I do daily as part of my spiritual ritual. It doesn’t always ‘work’ but I don’t know what that even really means except to say that some days it doesn’t resonate. Sometimes the cards and I are at odds and I have to remind myself that I am not so ordered, so simple as a deck of cards, no matter how thorough they may appear to be. No matter how organized or random, I am even more exponentially so. More organized. More random.

I ponder the intricacies of the human organism.

The exact weight and design of the internal organs.

How they fit together in a slick stacked pile.

The card I turn over is The Devil. Fifteenth of the Major Arcana.

The Devil resonates fiercely and exactly, like the precision of the sting of a cut on the blade. Immediately sliding parallel with every vein, every artery in my system, everything which flows into and out of the heart.

The Devil rules the underworld where there is eternal darkness.

Finally. Finally, the benevolent, merciful, enveloping dark. Finally, I am alone with it.

I watch for the whiteness of curling bone around black eyes. I sense the liquid silk pleasure of the void. Here is the life of the hallowed shadow, here are the hands of the wicked: slender, long. My hands and all which they have touched, harmed, caressed, stolen, violated, destroyed. My hands and all they have done to soothe my own aching body. All they have done to dismantle my mind.

The darkness is sensual, forbidden, tempting. Looming. It is all I want inside of me. I light a candle and summon it forward, unafraid. Wanting.

The rain moves in as I close my eyes. I listen to the hypnotic sound of it. Gratitude. Relief. I want to be taken into that place which quivers and trembles. I feel him now, his mouth of soft crimson at the base of my neck; the ecstasy of my self made sacrifice, of my aroused surrender. In the mirror I observe my own reflection: pale, detached. I seek the fire in the cave of my being, I press my swelling emotion against the walls of its womb. I am the host and the parasite, the mother and the strain of her milk; the burden of the infant and the blind fear of its infinite scream.

Madness is nothingness, this is why it echoes into itself.

During my meditation, there is an internal struggle against binding forces. We are killed by love and killed by no love. We are abused by fear and abused by no fear. We are beyond all of it, and encompass it. The Devil liberates by showing us ourselves from all sides, showing us the illusion of the separation of sides.

Fix your eyes. All light contains within it darkness. Within all darkness, light.

In a kind of ethereal trance, I lay back upon the floor as my beloved Demon pulls me close, whispers to me softly, seductively. With him I am serene, supple, yielding. Beautiful. He requires of me only that I show him everything.

I swallow his poison, taste his succulent death on my skin. Let him devour me whole.

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Photo by Richard Jaimes

 

 

The Otherworldly Contemporary Author to Be Obsessed with Right Now

Little dark clouds are forming out over the horizon in low clusters, as the purple hills off in the dewy distance lay themselves down before the pale morning sky. The sun just barely skims the trees while I sit sipping coffee on the grass of a small park on the outskirts of town. The air is still and smells of the empty kind of clean, and it feels good to be alone even in lonely times like these.

I am lucky to feel this way, of course, some are not so lucky by far. Perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of solace, perhaps in the name of a new way of making art, my latest obsession is the contemporary author Ottessa Moshfegh, who is making a splash because her works are oddly gripping in their merciless dark humor, focus on the aimless, and as she describes in her own words,

“My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined… it’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.”

Makes me wince to have that image shoved at me but there it is and it is a very keenly self-aware thing to say. She’s right. I’ve just finished her 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation in which the nameless narrator is a young woman, hip, pretty “like an off duty model” living in NYC. Both of her (very cold, very emotionally detached) parents have died and she lives more than comfortably off of her lavish inheritance on the Upper East side of Manhattan. She’s depressed and riddled with existential angst and ultimately decides she must not only start her aimless life anew but be completely reborn, transformed into an entirely new person, not on the outside, but on the inside.

In order to do this, she decides, she will need to hibernate, as in spend four months essentially unconscious, sleeping. She finds herself a lunatic doctor willing and ready to prescribe exorbitant amounts of drugs to “cure” the narrator’s made up “insomnia.” The whole thing becomes something of a high stakes artistic experimental endeavor to see if one very messed up girl can start over anew by essentially sleeping her way into a new kind of existence.

The final page of the story describes a scene which occurs on 9/11. I’ll not disclose the ending but suffice it to say there is an epiphany which takes place in such a way as to shock and arrest the reader into (perhaps) feeling lucky to be alive, even in a life which often feels overwhelming, aimless, useless, and terrible.

The whole experience of the book was like looking into a dark tunnel, reaching for the poetic black void, seeking to escape into what feels like freedom but also terror. Looking for a hand to hold but never quite touching it. Whatever this feeling is, be it longing or simply the nature of humanity to reach, to search, to seek, I have it in me. And to read of it in such a bizarrely crafted  story made me feel both more and less crazy, both more and less alone.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Moshfegh reveals that an artist friend once told her,

“Whatever it is that you’re going to do, you can’t just fit into the mold—you have to break the mold, blow people’s minds, do it perfectly, and then not care . . . Because if you care you’re not cool, and if you’re not cool you’re shit.”

Moshfegh, of course, cares a great deal. In fact, she goes on to explain her perspective on creating while describing why she ended a relationship with an ex,

“He told me in the middle of an argument that being an artist was something that weak people indulge in, and I made him leave, because I guess what I feel is the opposite of that . . . I think art is the thing that fixes culture, moment by moment. I don’t really feel a reason to exist unless I feel my life has a purpose, which is creating. So I feel—I’m not going to call it pressure—I feel I have a karmic role to play.”

Writing strangely as karma. Writing, even if it is dark and nearly shapeless, as the point, as the purpose. This is intensely fascinating to me perhaps because I was brought up to believe there were very clear lines between what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad,’ what is worthy and unworthy, worthwhile and a waste of one’s energies and skills, moral and immoral. But the mysterious Moshfegh inverts everything I have been taught to believe about what I am “allowed” to do with writing, with creativity, with art.

It is so rare for me to find an author who truly sinks her claws into me, who will not let me get away from her madness so easily, but Ottessa Moshfegh is such a creature. Meanwhile, I toss my empty coffee into the trash, brush the grass from my shorts, and head off into this life I’ve got pulsing through my slim little veins, a life of nothingness, wilderness, bliss and grime and grit.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

I Walk Right Through You

I bite my lip and hold my tongue as the fog rolls in, thick, heavy, white, like a translucent apparition wrapped around the stained glass hallways of my mind. The air coming in through the bedroom window is so damp it wets the sheets I’m spread out on, they are gummy against the stickiness of my bare skin. I shouldn’t leave the window cracked open but I can’t write if I feel trapped. It wastes the a/c and causes the glass to frost over with cool mist so I can’t see the outline of trees, just a greenish blue glob of darkness beyond the droplets of sliding pale blue sky. I shouldn’t smoke indoors but I do, I shouldn’t drink so much but I’m fairly certain by now that fuck everything is a new kind of pop religion counterculture. The only logical reaction to a 24/8 nihilistic news cycle, yoni eggs, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the ridiculousness of ‘self-care’ touted on social media platforms built to sell you back to yourself over and over again for cheap. You thought maybe I could entertain you, keep you company, stand at the center of the ring underneath the pink satin lights of a candy-striped summer evening. Drink champagne with you. Dance for you. You thought maybe I would make you feel safe and seen and heard and worshiped for a while. As I stood before you naked, blank, stared off into a distance where I exist only as light, only as sound, a distance I knew you would never see because your heart is closed while your eyes are hungry, lazy, ignorant. Your mouth, warm and affectionate, twisting your hips in the hopes of opening doors. When I leave you, the discomfort is stale on my gums like the aftertaste of the last crumpled cigarette from the bottom of my bag. It will do the trick in case of emergency. In case there is no other way out, you always have me, you figure, which is good enough for now. But even as I walk the gray stone streets of this unfeeling city, heavy with chunks of glass buildings lodged in my chest, underneath the rubble I can still feel you. The pulse of your hopeful devotion keeping time with my heels on the pavement. The faintness of your tattered heart, oblivious, still quietly beating.

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Photo by Kevin Laminto

The Beautiful and the Damned

The morning is balmy and close, hot already in the early shining rays of summer sun. As I watch the buildings begin to glisten in the light, a wet fog pulls in nearly obscuring what I know to be there, angles and lines which have been there for as long as I can remember. Tracing my gaze over his face as he sleeps in perfect breathy silence, I wonder who I am sometimes and how I got here into a place both familiar and unknown. There has always been a part of me which was detached, sifting, both here and away, both touchable and untouchable. We are born into a game which has two sides and no way to win, only ways to keep kicking the can down the road. Only ways to keep flipping the coin until it all stops for good. Today, heads. Tomorrow, a tailspin, perhaps, or the same old thing underneath what you wish you could bring about but haven’t the skills nor the energy. Having little tolerance for sleeping in, I pull my ever lengthening strawberry golden waves into a knot, slide out of the warmth of our bed, and tip toe off to the kitchen for coffee. The salons have opened up again and my favorite one calls and leaves me voicemails which I ignore. Come back in, we’re open! A cheerful pleading desperation. As if by making an appointment for a haircut I’d have cured something no one yet knows how to cure; soothed a fear no one can bear to feel shocking through their hearts minute by minute; affirmed a truth we all know is fabrication. We are not okay. We have not been okay. So very little of what is happening is okay. I drove by the other day on the way to the liquor store and saw the tiny salon parking lot overflowing with cars. Ah, yes, the herds are herding, the flocks are flocking, all trimmed and tweezed, waxed and highlighted back into a perverted kind of normal which I increasingly despise.

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Photo by Daniele D’Andreti

When I Think of You

Time is running short and the day is closing in faded pinks and blues like an eyelid over a dying world. I could not chase you without the strength and so I let you go. But I never forgot what you told me, in the quiet light of midnight fire, about beauty, about the value and nobility of listening to the harvest moon. It is wrapped within the silence, this is the way I feel you now inside my skin. Untouched, untouchable, and pure. My way of moving through the world is at times waif thin, at times so quiet you could swear we had never even met at all. But you remember when you see my face in the mirror beside you, a ghost of the way we once were, radiant, magnificent, two voices tangled in laughter down the hall as we passed through one another into the rest of our lives. When I am alone, I light a cigarette and fill my lungs and the air with pain, sweet, burning pain which crushes out the embers of illusion. I cannot get you out of my head and yet I know my heart is only the more tattered and torn for it. Perhaps what we savor the most is the dread, perhaps it is the poetry which breathes the aching in our ribs. Little cages full of roses and water. In my mind, your hands encircle my throat and hold me beneath the ocean waves. You, like a baptism by drowning. You, like blood in a vein, a body pulsing with pleasure, sound, and magic.

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Photo by Mahir Uysal