Having taken the day off to write and instead spent the better part of the morning investigating everything Jia Tolentino ever wrote or thought about or said in an interview to the point where I love-hate how brilliant she is, which is maddening in and of itself, I’m on my third cup of coffee, my fingers hovering over the keys of my laptop, waiting. Waiting for answers from someplace – any place – outside or in – that is willing to reveal itself to me. Across my front lawn the soft rain has turned to a heavy humid mist as I’m staring off into space attempting to come up with something notable, and even though my brain seems flatlined and writing seems elusive and far off, still I want so badly to keep this promise I made to myself long ago: to write.
Just to write even if it’s terrible because it’s the only ease to this undercurrent of pain, of gripping longing, that seems to be a part of my dna. To write what, exactly? What are you supposed to speak about or believe in when nothing is as it seems and reality is a fog you can move your hands through but never grasp. People are masks, mere shells of themselves and everyone is too loud, too transparent, too well put together. Aren’t we endlessly looking to the same nonsense all of the time hoping it will magically transform into the key to satisfying our deepest desires? Aren’t we hoping for something we don’t know how to identify, something to cure the repetitive horror that is this world, or at least temporarily slow it down so we could catch our breath, something that will finally fill us up and assure us that we are here for a reason other than to pose and posture and buy things we don’t know why we want. No matter how good we have it, we all want to be somebody else. We all want relief from something invisible that holds us under water just long enough so we panic but do not drown. Wracked with an anxiousness nothing really ever seems to eradicate, we kill ourselves off a thousand times a day comparing our lives to the lives we wish we had, worrying what we should be doing while we are doing none of it. Maybe it’s these dreams of ours. These silly dreams of being writers, artists, creatives, rebels, outsiders. These beautiful dreams and how in their darkness they keep us chasing something we cannot find, how in the daylight they render us powerless, paralyzed. The same.
As we are frolicking about acting like children in the makeshift swimming pool in our back yard, the rest of the country is mourning the most recent mass shooting in America. Actually, this time it’s two shootings within hours of each other. El Paso and Dayton. After sipping coffee and scrolling on your phone, you reluctantly inform me of this as I have taken a break from the news and the rest of the outside world for the weekend. This planet is so full of cruelty and pain I’ve decided to try to write myself out of it as often as I can. What should never happen already has: I stare across the yard almost unfeelingly. You aren’t supposed to feel numb right now you are supposed to be enraged and do something because enough and this has to stop and never again and never forget. We are a country that disgraces the dignity of people, their bodies and their words. Bodies are for counting. Words are punchlines, words are excuses, words are little trap doors for the monsters to slip out of sight.
Once I can get past the shock, disbelief, and numbness I will feel something and it will be awful. I’m still human just a much more jaded and cynical one than I once was. As the birds are singing and locusts buzzing all around us in the grass and we decide it is in fact early enough to start drinking, I pour us some wine to share while eating turkey and cheese sandwiches for lunch. And the next day, another lunch, another dinner, another bottle of wine and a cigarette and the waiting for the other shoe to drop in this vacuum we call life. I’m sitting in my office and people come and go obsessed with their executive performance, ranking, standing, achievements, retirement plans. Not a word passes between any of us about the shootings because it isn’t the time or the place or the thought or the prayer so best to just keep on punching that time clock and smiling fake smiles while ignoring all the blood and death and ignorance and cowardice and self-destruction happening right outside our glossy corporate floor to ceiling windows. I can smell the stale coffee burning in the glass pot in the break room. I can hear the screaming of the terrorized and the wailing of the mothers who cannot find their children. Are they among the dead? I can see the sunlight splashing through the trees on this beaming summer day in August 2019 that shouldn’t belong to anyone.
Watching the moon late in the evening and listening for the precise moment when the seasons click from summer to fall, I light a cigarette and let the long deep drag burn my tender lungs. A terrible habit. It could be any day of any year that passes by in the blink of an eye, but as it happens I am in the middle of my 41st year on this planet. I’ve got almost everything and hardly anything to show for it, depending on who you ask. That’s the thing about creating your own life, it cuts across the membrane of the lives other people seem to think you ought to be birthing or killing off according to rules you may or may not agree apply to you, yourself, as an individual collection of fears and hopes, desires and obsessions.
For all the words left unsaid on this side of the veil, it’s only once you cross over to the other side that they will suddenly try to reflect upon the story of you, the one they’ll cobble together – the story of a life they only ever glimpsed a small well-manicured fraction of. To the outside world you are mostly a collection of titles affixed to you to have you figured and therefore quieted…palatable. Daughter. Woman. Assistant. Wife. Writer. Addict. Mother. Mother means you are a nurturing, selfless, giving woman but what about the time when you thought motherhood was the thing that was going to kill you and you cursed it alone in the dark as your baby screamed and so did you and you both went hours without touching each other? What about the time your own mother slapped you across the mouth in the bathroom for saying something flip? What about that motherhood is sometimes trauma of a twisted and secret kind that makes you feel ashamed and afraid and tired and like you don’t deserve it?
As the flashes of my former life flicker across my mind and the darkness falls into a vacant backdrop to the sound of crickets singing in the heat, I turn my body to curl into a patio chair on my back lawn. The moon is high and piercing, swung up there all alone, a rock in orbit around the same old bits for all eternity. How beautiful we think she is, observing her majesty from down below while sunk to the bottom of a bottle of white wine grown warm. Underneath that static glow, where the shadows deepen to pock her ancient lunar body, what does she actually feel?
This is an excerpt from “Here Is The Flood” — one of the opening pieces in my upcoming book Luminae. You can click play to hear me read the full piece.
I find that one of the hardest things to do is to try to speak about why I write. For me it’s about going deep enough within to a place where one can find the breathtaking beauty in pangs of sorrow, and terrible longing even inside joy. Whenever I write it seems more and more is revealed to me about the paradox of what we are as humans. Though I know I’ll never be able to grasp it in full, I believe somewhere in the search for myself lies the truth of who I am. It is that elusive truth which keeps me coming back to the page.
I hope you enjoy this piece. I hope it sparks something creative inside of you.
Luminae will be available on Amazon beginning November 15th.
In the dream, pieces of the body and face were coming away, large portions of the jaw, craters of flesh had been removed from the arm and the leg. Hair was coming out in plastic clumps though I did not appear to be losing hair. The full breasts were bare and whole, the abdomen white and shining. Teeth were coming out. Fingers crumbling away. It became impossible to function with effectiveness in the world with a body which was apart from itself, disappearing, disintegrating. I had become a film of myself as if projected on a wall.
Upon waking the joy of feeling whole was a deep crimson warmth. Some visions reflect light, some absorb. We are a constant, though everything is birthed to be swallowed again by the waves of a sea which heaves and vanishes. Each curl, each star, each hand to the mouth, an opening. Many will interpret dreams, they will have their own words, their own made up diagnoses which if you listen will tear your throat away from your voice, the only voice you need will be severed, rusted. Sink inside and reach with your mind into the heart, unearth yourself, till your soil, your seed, drink your own rain water.
The being which is the self knows. The being which had been closed off again returns, quietly. The human creature can dig into its own body and resurrect the spirit of secrets, the gauzelike whispers of things we have held bound inside the tissue for centuries. The messages pounded and spread into us through anguish and ecstasy. Grinding of bones, wails of anger, greed, unfathomable torture and pleasure. Those things which float within us which we clutch and release, everything we reach for we reach for inside this place no one else can see. We are coming apart in ways we have yet to understand. Collectively, privately. We have not yet begun to touch all we are designed to touch. The falling out is the beginning. Where we crumble we consume ourselves; bodies, shadows, servants of light.
The words come as I forget to eat and try to catch them
sand falls through time.
I hope you dream bigger than this.
I hope that you do not give up or turn to face
without tucking your fingers into the hands
of the light.
Hold them close when they are madness
let their voices sing in your mind
when they leave you for dead.
The people who come too close
The ones who leave
still teach if you can learn not to let fear
take you under.
This life as she looks you in the eye
is falling away from under your feet
do not stop
do not give up
do not keep the words in drawers
but if you need to
go away for a long time
and let the sea kiss you
I felt an overpowering need to be alone with something impossible to name. It had hands clutched full of the flesh of silence which multiplied without end. There was no one in that place. Everyone had left and they had each pulled one of its doors shut behind them. I was very alone. It was very dark, it was very peaceful, I was afraid. I was very afraid it would end and that it would never end. It was womanlike and dim, a love that could only breathe you out and breathe you in this way. It could only flower in solitude. It would only expose itself one to one, face to face, mouth to mouth.
A mysterious union which was without need for bodies, it was body-less. Forbidden and yet met with an almost primitive expectation. The pain and terror of all the world rested its head in this place.
An apex. A resuscitation.
It was a life invading itself where death had long been its only comfort.
I have carried the buds of a thousand gardens inside of me, many lifetimes have I been caressed against my will. I have produced and offered the milk and the honey, the fire and the water and the abuse. I have been unable to bloom, longing to encircle my thick vines around the precious feet of the marbled gray daylight. All I want now is to be alone with this unknowable thing and to let it feel me, I want to feel inside of it with my tongue, with my fingers, with my body and blood, with my consciousness and my subconsciousness, in waking and in dreams, to penetrate it with the poison which consumes me and give it a punishing pleasure. I want to stretch into its glistening web and learn to obey the strange fluid rhythms of its body-less pulse.
We speak too loudly and too often. We are murdering something which cannot leave. I cannot bear any longer to sleep outside of it. There is a place beyond this one, it lives inside. It hopes no one will come to the door. It hopes no one will understand its words, it wants to close in around itself and return the light to its tomb underground. It gives birth to its own time. It chews its own limbs and destroys its own space. It wants to make love to the darkness and water its wings with the tears that fall like petals from the last sighs of the last stars. It is perpetual. It does not name what it wants.
There have been chance moments within all of this, moments of madness and grace,
which I fear I will surely forget. But for now I am here with you and the twilight is sliding across your face. For now your eyes holding mine and the way our fingers become whispers become the lengthening of necks become flesh over the fragile bones of dreams come back to life, for now I will feel everything. I will shatter and I will expose and I will untie all the things about myself that I have kept bound in the dark halls of my petrified being for ages. So that when this moment has gone, when it has become part of the next, and these small things become smaller and smaller still as they walk the eternal distance of time, I will have been made into everything I could have become. Because I let it all in and I let it all go and this is the magnificence, and this is the miracle of the blood of the life we are invited to know, when life is allowed to open and to close and to flow.
I am learning to look back and see that every cycle, every phase of the things I have been through, they each needed the space and time and energy they needed. That is simply the truth.
There was nothing I could have rushed through and nothing I could have prevented because I was unfolding in two ways at once: in love and in fear of love. And these two streams were crisscrossing each other all the time exactly as they were set in motion. I made choices, of course, but each was made from that intersection of love and fear of love.
I can see that now, however briefly, however fleeting that clarity may be, I can see my life, my love and fear-of-love story, as whole. As complete in the way it met and did not meet my expectations of myself.
There is a place which is a way, which is a way of thinking about these things without judgment. It’s a center, a balance, we can seek out if we can trust ourselves enough that it exists. This place within is where we cut ourselves free, let ourselves off the hook for whatever we believe the past held for us. What it gave to us and what we gave in return can be what they are.
It is really tough to dwell within that clarity and it moves ever in and out of focus. But through some kind of madness or miracle, it can be done.